Oprah Winfrey’s Rags to Riches Story

Today, I’m going to share a very inspiring story with you. I believe that this real-life story can motivates you and inspires you to take even more actions in your life. After I read this story, I felt that I’m not using my full potential in life, and I’m so motivated after reading it.

Have you ever heard of this woman, maybe you have but you didn’t know of her background. This woman was born to an unwed 13 year old mother. Alright, with no father, because her mother was raped and she was the result of the rape. Now if you think of a woman like that would you think that she would have a bright future? Probably not.

So when she was born she was abandoned by her mother. She had no family and she was adopted. But to her misfortune when she was adopted the people who adopted her were irresponsible, were very cruel, they sexually and physically abused her over a period of 15 years. She was forced to take drugs, she was sent to a juvenile home for delinquency.

She went in and out of rehabilitation for cocaine abuse. She was forced to steal. But the sad and ironic thing is this. At 13 year old herself, she was also raped. She got pregnant and she gave birth to a still born child. Now as I told you the story of this woman, would you feel sorry for her? A lot of us would. And let’s say today this woman is a complete wreck, totally depressed, on drugs, would you blame her? A lot of people won’t blame her, they will say it’s not her fault it is the environment.

But what if I tell you what happened to this woman today, she is one of the most successful respected and wealthiest women in the world today. Oprah Winfrey. Have you ever heard of Oprah Winfrey. How many of you have watched her show Oprah Prime Time? Is it inspiring? And on the show she talks about things that inspire people. She talks about social issues; she interviews celebrities like Bill Clinton, Tom Cruise etc.

But that was not how she started. When she started her talk show ten years ago she was a nobody, and being a black woman there was a lot of racism. And when she first started her talk shows, do you know who she interviewed? She interviewed people who had been raped, people who went through emotional trauma. People, who are divorced, people who have attempted suicide. And during her 1 hour talk show, she would inspire and counsel them. And people who have attended her talk show, they would say, “My life is better after talking to her and I will conquer the world”.

And when people saw her show on TV that’s how they became inspired and that’s how she also became as famous as Oprah. The woman can change lives. And recently someone interviewed her. And they asked her, Oprah, what gave you the ability to do what you do today? You know what she said?

It’s because of what happened to me last time. She says it’s because of my tough childhood because of the pain that I went through that it has made me a very strong woman. And today nothing can shake my foundation.

And she said when I look at the difficult issues at society, when I look at people suffering, I can talk about it, and I can connect with all these people, why? Because I can empathize, I was there before. And I can use my life as a role model to change their lives. That’s why I am Oprah Winfrey. So successful people they all believe one thing, it’s not what happens to us that defines who we become. It’s what we choose to do about it. And she also said one thing that really inspired me.

“Whatever happens to us, it happened for a reason.”

Do you believe that things happen for a reason? I don’t know about you, but I believe that everything in life happens for a reason. The worst things that happen to us happen for a reason. But the question is what the reason we want to give ourselves. Do we say for ourselves it is a curse? Or do we say to ourselves that it is a test? (“Why” Is More Important Than “How”)

I will leave this inspiring story for you to digest the meaning in it now. You have to find out the reason for yourself, only you will know why. I hope that this story inspires you as well. So if you were born ‘luckier’ than Oprah today, then make sure that you use your full potential to achieve amazing results in your life.



For more info, visit http://www.oprah.com/


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E.Sreedharan – Metro Man of India

How many people in Delhi know a man called E. Sreedharan? He is 70. Should have retired a long time ago with enough achievements to boast about to his grandchildren. Most of his working life he was yet another unknown engineer with the railways, until he took up the challenge of building the Konkan Railway that reduced the Mumbai-Kochi distance by one-third. Everybody said it wasn’t possible. Also, that it would cost too much money, will be a white elephant, will be technologically impossible, will ravage the environment. The usual reasons why no new infrastructure can be built in India. There were PILs filed, processions taken out. He defied them all and built India’s first, genuine railway project of any notable size after the British.


When the government was short of money, he raised public bonds and that was a decade ago when such things were unprecedented. The Konkan Railway is to Indian infrastructure what the Mohali stadium is to Indian cricket.

Sreedharan did not stop there. Everybody laughed when plans to build a metro rail in Delhi were announced. All of us knew the chaos even a small, one-line metro in Kolkata had caused for a decade and a half. But Sreedharan took up the project. It is now being built, ahead of schedule, in spite of the setback of the Japanese sanctions after Pokharan and without making a tenth of the mess the construction of an ordinary flyover creates in Delhi. Yet, how much credit has Sreedharan got? How often do you see him on television, on the front pages of our newspapers? Or maybe you will, when someone envious of what he has achieved, and the fact that he will leave behind a monument to his own achievement this city should be proud of, files a complaint with the CBI, CVC, a PIL, and so on.

 He is a modest man. It is not the self-effacing version of modesty which politicians wear, but the genuine kind. E. Sreedharan, architect of the Konkan Railway and the Delhi Metro Rail, believes that all his achievements were the result of team efforts

.The 71-year-old civil engineer (“still looking forward to retirement”) has been selected as one of the most outstanding Asians by Time magazine. But he takes it in his stride. “Why do you want to write about me?” he asks this correspondent. “Write about the project.” The project is mapping Delhi with a world class metro rail network. That is his focus and passion now.


Focus and passion. Probably these are the keywords. But when he is asked about the mantra of success, Sreedharan again downplays his role. “I have been lucky enough to pick up the right people for the right job,” he says.

So why should one write about Sreedharan? Because he is an extraordinary man, an extraordinary bureaucrat, who believes in certain values and has sustained them throughout his life against umpteen odds.


This was the case from the start. In 1963, disaster struck the Rameshwaram island when tidal waves washed away the Pamban bridge connecting it with mainland Tamil Nadu. A passenger train was swept away, killing hundreds of persons.


The Southern Railway decided to restore the bridge and set a target of six months. General Manager B.C. Ganguly advanced the deadline by three months and the Railway Board assigned the task to a 31-year-old executive engineer, Sreedharan. It was a tough task as it was an old bridge, built by the British in late-nineteenth century, with 146 spans and a scherzer-a steel girder which opens up for large vessels to pass under the bridge.


Sreedharan took up the challenge and advanced the deadline by a month, making the task tougher. He made the bridge functional in 46 days. He achieved this by the application of some ‘commonplace values’-discipline, punctuality and honesty-and the introduction of a new work culture. These traits continue. After the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) was set up, one of the first things Sreedharan did as managing director was to instil a “sense of corporate culture”.


“In private organisations run by the Tatas, Birlas and Ambanis, it is not difficult to stick to deadlines,” says Sreedharan. “The word of the boss is final.” In a government set-up, where there are too many bosses and too few juniors, it is next to impossible. But not totally impossible, as Sreedharan has proved. He believes in working with slim organisations. (He also believes in being slim.) While it took more than two decades to build the Kolkata metro (“The result of bad planning,” says Sreedharan), Delhi stuck to its deadline of December 2002.


In Delhi, he did not have to face many hurdles. There were no stay orders, no dharnas. People in the Old Delhi area (Chandni Chowk) did object to their houses being demolished . But the DMRC used the tunnel boring machine technology to solve this problem. It has ensured that there were no major traffic bottlenecks, no demolition.

He is focused and passionate about his work. His insistence on deadlines had earned him 20 transfers in the early years of his career.

Sreedharan, who has been in the Indian Railways for 50 years, had successfully completed one mega-project earlier-the Konkan railway between Maharashtra and Mangalore. The rail-line was mooted in 1990 by then railway minister George Fernandes, while talking to Railway Board members. After stating it, Fernandes himself dismissed it as impossible.

A month later, Sreedharan went to Fernandes with a well-charted out plan. “I told him that we will have to work in a different fashion,” he recalls. Probably his enthusiasm infected Fernandes, who got cabinet approval for the project within three days. Maharashtra and Kerala immediately agreed to the project, but Karnataka chief minister Virendra Patil objected.

Sreedharan, then a member of the Railway Board, went to Maharashtra, Karnataka, Goa and Kerala and got all the necessary approvals before his ‘retirement’. But retirement was not to be as Fernandes wanted him to head the West Coast Railway. Thus the Konkan Rail Corporation was born. It created an engineering marvel by laying a rail network across the mountainous Western Ghats.


Sreedharan insists he does not have any special skills to get the best out of people. “I always found that people cooperate if you work for a good cause,” he says.   


Is he a workaholic? “No,” says he. “I am committed to my work but not a workaholic.” His colleagues agree that he does not believe in making people stay on in the office if they have finished their given task. “He even takes a nap in the afternoons,” says a colleague.

Sreedharan, who was born in Chattanur, a small village near Palakkad in Kerala, does not have much of a social life. “Once in a while I go to classical music concerts,” he says. He also makes it a point to visit Kerala at regular intervals to meet relatives. “Very often, he travels by lower class,” says a colleague. A favourite journey is, of course, through the Konkan rail stretch, which he can watch with proprietary pride.

” I have four children,” says he. “We were not really well-off. But my wife, Radha, took care of all those problems.” One son is an engineer but he did not join the Railways despite his father encouraging him.

“I believe that when an officer is given a particular task, he should be made responsible to finish it,” says Sreedharan. He almost has an obsession with deadlines. (In the early years of his career, it earned him 20 transfers.) Every officer in DMRC keeps a digital board which shows the number of days left for the completion of the next target. On April 23, it was 160 days left for the Tis Hazari-Tri Nagar section of the Delhi Metro to be complete.

So, where he does go from there? “Retirement,” he says with a twinkle in the eyes. He thanks God for giving him success. “I am a religious person but religion does not mean going to temples. To me it means leading a virtuous life,” he says.

Success and virtue. A rare combination in today’s world. But they run side by side in Sreedharan’s life. Like rail tracks.



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Inspiring Life of Bill Gates

If you possess the mastermind and your intellect is put to correct use, one day you can be at the top of the world. Hard to believe? Then look at the life of Bill Gates, whose consistent victory upon victory is a proof of his genius .

Born in 1955, he has become the envy of all the richest men in the world and he achieved this rare feat within the shortest possible time. Bill Gates is today the chairman and chief software architect of Microsoft Corporation, the worldwide leader in software, services and solutions and has generated revenues of US36.84 billion for the fiscal year ending June 2004. The company employs more than 55,000 people in 85 countries and regions.

Early on his life, it was apparent that Bill Gates inherited the ambition, intelligence, and competitive spirit that had helped his forefathers rise to the top in their chosen professions. In elementary school he quickly surpassed all of his peer’s abilities in nearly all subjects, especially math and science. His parents recognized is intelligence and decided to enroll him in lakeside, private school known for its intense academic environment. This decision had far reaching effects on Bill Gates life. For at Lakeside, Bill Gates was first introduced to computers.

In 1968, the Lakeside prep school decided that it should acquaint the student body with the world of computer. At this time, computers were still too large and costly for the school to purchase its own. Bill Gates, Paul Allen, and a few other Lakeside students (many of whom were the first programmers hired at Microsoft) immediately became inseparable from the computer. They would stay in the computer room all day and night, writing programs, reading computer literature and everything else they could do to learn about computing. They even skipped classes to be in the computer room, and worst of all, they had to use up all of the schools computer time in just a few weeks. They caused the system to crash several times and broke the computers security system. They even altered the files that recorded the amount of time they were using computers.

Bill Gates was determined to find a way to apply his computer skills in the real world. It was here that Bill Gates and his friend Allen really began to develop the talents that would lead to the formation of Microsoft seven years later.

In 1973, Bill Gates signed up for one of Harvard’s toughest math course. He did well but just as in high school, his heart was not at his studies. He lost himself in the world of computers once again. Bill Gates would spend many long nights in front of the computer and sleep in the class the next day.


While at Harvard, Bill Gates developed a version of the programming language called BASIC for the first microcomputer – the MITS Altair.

In December 1974, Allen was in his way to visit Bill gates when along the way he stops to browse through the current magazines. What he saw change his and Bill Gate’s lives forever. On the cover of Popular Electronics was a picture of the Altair 8080 wih the headline “World’s First Microcomputer Kit to Rival Commercial Models.” He bought the issue and rushed over to Bill Gates room. They both recognized this as their big opportunity. The two knew that the home computer market was about to explode that someone need to make software for the machines. Within a few days, Gates had called MITS (Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry System), the makers of the Altair. He told the company that he and Allen had developed a program called BASIC that could be used on the Altair.

That was a lie. They had not even written a line of code. They had neither an Altair nor the chip that ran the computer. The MITS company did not know this and was very interested in seeing their BASIC. So, Bill Gates and Allen began working feverishly on the BASIC they had promised. The code for the program was left mostly up to Bill Gates while Paul Allen began working on a way to simulate the Altair.The program worked perfectly. The MITS arranged a deal with Bill Gates and Allen to buy the rights to their BASIC. Bill Gates was convinced that the software market had been born. Within a year, Bill Gates had dropped out of Harvard and Microsoft was formed.

Guided by the belief that the computer would be a valuable tool on every office desktop and in every home, they began developing software for personal computers. Bill Gates’ foresight and his vision for personal computing have been central to the success of Microsoft and the software industry. He created an operating system for computers when IBM was the market leader. But IBM did require an operating system to run its personal computers effectively. Bill Gates claimed that his operating system was better than that of others. He was immediately appointed to create an exclusive operating system for IBM computers.

Shortly afterwards, he offered to buy Computer Product Company’s Q-DOS program at an exorbitant rate. The company agreed. He renamed it M-DOS and gave the operative system to IBM before the prescribed time. Bill Gates earned a lot of money without putting in much effort.

Meanwhile, Bill Gates was shrewd enough not give the full potential of the operating system to IBM. He gave only a part of the system and asks them to pay for the complete version. At last IBM was helpless and was dependent on Bill Gates and ended up paying a heavy sum for his skills. This was a first major business victory for Bill gates. Because of this agreement alone, Bill Gates made millions in royalty as all the computers use his operating system.

By this time, internet browser was becoming increasingly popular. Bill Gates’ Microsoft company was not very sure about internet browser’s future. Mark Anderson created the Netscape to browse the internet. Bill Gates invited him to become his partner but Anderson refused. Bill Gates is known for playing hardball to make life difficult for competing operating systems and applications. Putting his genius to work, he created a web browser know as Internet Explorer and distributed it free. Netscape which charged for its services faded into oblivion

Bill Gates would go to any length to maintain his exiting monopoly. But he has no qualms. He said that any operating system without a browser would go out of business. So we improved our product or else we would have gone out of business, he added. Critics say that Bill Gates’ intensely competitive approach has poisoned the collaborative hacker ethos of the early days of personal computing. His vision is such that he does not look for win-win situations with others, but on the contrary for ways to make others lose. For him, success is defined as flattening the competition, not creating excellence.

No wonder, Bill Gates shuttles between courts to fight disputes. Bill Gates has been declared by Forbes as the richest person in the word for 13 consecutive years and his net worth has reached such astounding levels, he is today worth of $56billion.

He has become one of the most important minds and personalities of our era.

In order to become successful in business, mere hard work alone is not enough. One must have the sharp acumen to steer clear of blockades along the way.




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Life lessons from Infosys Narayana Murthy

R Narayana Murthy, chief mentor and chairman of the board, Infosys Technologies, delivered a pre-commencement lecture at the New York University (Stern School of Business) on May 9. It is a scintillating speech, Murthy speaks about the lessons he learnt from his life and career. We present it for our readers:


Dean Cooley, faculty, staff, distinguished guests, and, most importantly, the graduating class of 2007, it is a great privilege to speak at your commencement ceremonies.


 I thank Dean Cooley and Prof Marti Subrahmanyam for their kind invitation. I am exhilarated to be part of such a joyous occasion. Congratulations to you, the class of 2007, on completing an important milestone in your life journey.


After some thought, I have decided to share with you some of my life lessons. I learned these lessons in the context of my early career struggles, a life lived under the influence of sometimes unplanned events which were the crucibles that tempered my character and reshaped my future.



 I would like first to share some of these key life events with you, in the hope that these may help you understand my struggles and how chance events and unplanned encounters with influential persons shaped my life and career.


 Later, I will share the deeper life lessons that I have learned. My sincere hope is that this sharing will help you see your own trials and tribulations for the hidden blessings they can be.


 The first event occurred when I was a graduate student in Control Theory at IIT, Kanpur, in India. At breakfast on a bright Sunday morning in 1968, I had a chance encounter with a famous computer scientist on sabbatical from a well-known US university.


 He was discussing exciting new developments in the field of computer science with a large group of students and how such developments would alter our future. He was articulate, passionate and quite convincing. I was hooked. I went straight from breakfast to the library, read four or five papers he had suggested, and left the library determined to study computer science.


 Friends, when I look back today at that pivotal meeting, I marvel at how one role model can alter for the better the future of a young student. This experience taught me that valuable advice can sometimes come from an unexpected source, and chance events can sometimes open new doors.


The next event that left an indelible mark on me occurred in 1974. The location: Nis, a border town between former Yugoslavia, now Serbia, and Bulgaria. I was hitchhiking from Paris back to Mysore, India, my home town.


 By the time a kind driver dropped me at Nis railway station at 9 p.m. on a Saturday night, the restaurant was closed. So was the bank the next morning, and I could not eat because I had no local money. I slept on the railway platform until 8.30 pm in the night when the Sofia Express pulled in.


 The only passengers in my compartment were a girl and a boy. I struck a conversation in French with the young girl. She talked about the travails of living in an iron curtain country, until we were roughly interrupted by some policemen who, I later gathered, were summoned by the young man who thought we were criticising the communist government of Bulgaria.


 The girl was led away; my backpack and sleeping bag were confiscated. I was dragged along the platform into a small 8×8 foot room with a cold stone floor and a hole in one corner by way of toilet facilities. I was held in that bitterly cold room without food or water for over 72 hours.


 I had lost all hope of ever seeing the outside world again, when the door opened. I was again dragged out unceremoniously, locked up in the guard’s compartment on a departing freight train and told that I would be released 20 hours later upon reaching Istanbul. The guard’s final words still ring in my ears  –  ”You are from a friendly country called India and that is why we are letting you go!”


 The journey to Istanbul was lonely, and I was starving. This long, lonely, cold journey forced me to deeply rethink my convictions about Communism. Early on a dark Thursday morning, after being hungry for 108 hours, I was purged of any last vestiges of affinity for the Left.


I concluded that entrepreneurship, resulting in large-scale job creation, was the only viable mechanism for eradicating poverty in societies.


Deep in my heart, I always thank the Bulgarian guards for transforming me from a confused Leftist into a determined, compassionate capitalist! Inevitably, this sequence of events led to the eventual founding of Infosys in 1981.


 While these first two events were rather fortuitous, the next two, both concerning the Infosys journey, were more planned and profoundly influenced my career trajectory.


 On a chilly Saturday morning in winter 1990, five of the seven founders of Infosys met in our small office in a leafy Bangalore suburb. The decision at hand was the possible sale of Infosys for the enticing sum of $1 million. After nine years of toil in the then business-unfriendly India, we were quite happy at the prospect of seeing at least some money.


 I let my younger colleagues talk about their future plans. Discussions about the travails of our journey thus far and our future challenges went on for about four hours. I had not yet spoken a word.


 Finally, it was my turn. I spoke about our journey from a small Mumbai apartment in 1981 that had been beset with many challenges, but also of how I believed we were at the darkest hour before the dawn. I then took an audacious step. If they were all bent upon selling the company, I said, I would buy out all my colleagues, though I did not have a cent in my pocket.


 There was a stunned silence in the room. My colleagues wondered aloud about my foolhardiness. But I remained silent. However, after an hour of my arguments, my colleagues changed their minds to my way of thinking. I urged them that if we wanted to create a great company, we should be optimistic and confident. They have more than lived up to their promise of that day.


 In the seventeen years since that day, Infosys has grown to revenues in excess of $3.0 billion, a net income of more than $800 million and a market capitalisation of more than $28 billion, 28,000 times richer than the offer of $1 million on that day.


 In the process, Infosys has created more than 70,000 well-paying jobs, 2,000-plus dollar-millionaires and 20,000-plus rupee millionaires.


A final story: On a hot summer morning in 1995, a Fortune-10 corporation had sequestered all their Indian software vendors, including Infosys, in different rooms at the Taj Residency hotel in Bangalore so that the vendors could not communicate with one another. This customer’s propensity for tough negotiations was well-known. Our team was very nervous.


 First of all, with revenues of only around $5 million, we were minnows compared to the customer.


 Second, this customer contributed fully 25% of our revenues. The loss of this business would potentially devastate our recently-listed company.


 Third, the customer’s negotiation style was very aggressive. The customer team would go from room to room, get the best terms out of each vendor and then pit one vendor against the other. This went on for several rounds. Our various arguments why a fair price  –  one that allowed us to invest in good people, R&D, infrastructure, technology and training — was actually in their interest failed to cut any ice with the customer.


 By 5 p.m. on the last day, we had to make a decision right on the spot whether to accept the customer’s terms or to walk out.


 All eyes were on me as I mulled over the decision. I closed my eyes, and reflected upon our journey until then. Through many a tough call, we had always thought about the long-term interests of Infosys. I communicated clearly to the customer team that we could not accept their terms, since it could well lead us to letting them down later. But I promised a smooth, professional transition to a vendor of customer’s choice.


 This was a turning point for Infosys.


Subsequently, we created a Risk Mitigation Council which ensured that we would never again depend too much on any one client, technology, country, application area or key employee. The crisis was a blessing in disguise. Today, Infosys has a sound de-risking strategy that has stabilised its revenues and profits.


 I want to share with you, next, the life lessons these events have taught me.


1. I will begin with the importance of learning from experience. It is less important, I believe, where you start. It is more important how and what you learn. If the quality of the learning is high, the development gradient is steep, and, given time, you can find yourself in a previously unattainable place. I believe the Infosys story is living proof of this.

Learning from experience, however, can be complicated. It can be much more difficult to learn from success than from failure. If we fail, we think carefully about the precise cause. Success can indiscriminately reinforce all our prior actions.


2. A second theme concerns the power of chance events. As I think across a wide variety of settings in my life, I am struck by the incredible role played by the interplay of chance events with intentional choices. While the turning points themselves are indeed often fortuitous, how we respond to them is anything but so. It is this very quality of how we respond systematically to chance events that is crucial.


 3. Of course, the mindset one works with is also quite critical. As recent work by the psychologist, Carol Dweck, has shown, it matters greatly whether one believes in ability as inherent or that it can be developed. Put simply, the former view, a fixed mindset, creates a tendency to avoid challenges, to ignore useful negative feedback and leads such people to plateau early and not achieve their full potential.


The latter view, a growth mindset, leads to a tendency to embrace challenges, to learn from criticism and such people reach ever higher levels of achievement (Krakovsky, 2007: page 48).


 4. The fourth theme is a cornerstone of the Indian spiritual tradition: self-knowledge. Indeed, the highest form of knowledge, it is said, is self-knowledge.


 I believe this greater awareness and knowledge of oneself is what ultimately helps develop a more grounded belief in oneself, courage, determination, and, above all, humility, all qualities which enable one to wear one’s success with dignity and grace.


 Based on my life experiences, I can assert that it is this belief in learning from experience, a growth mindset, the power of chance events, and self-reflection that have helped me grow to the present.


 Back in the 1960s, the odds of my being in front of you today would have been zero. Yet here I stand before you! With every successive step, the odds kept changing in my favour, and it is these life lessons that made all the difference.


 My young friends, I would like to end with some words of advice. Do you believe that your future is pre-ordained, and is already set? Or, do you believe that your future is yet to be written and that it will depend upon the sometimes fortuitous events?


 Do you believe that these events can provide turning points to which you will respond with your energy and enthusiasm? Do you believe that you will learn from these events and that you will reflect on your setbacks? Do you believe that you will examine your successes with even greater care?


 I hope you believe that the future will be shaped by several turning points with great learning opportunities. In fact, this is the path I have walked to much advantage.


 A final word: When, one day, you have made your mark on the world, remember that, in the ultimate analysis, we are all mere temporary custodians of the wealth we generate, whether it be financial, intellectual, or emotional. The best use of all your wealth is to share it with those less fortunate.


 I believe that we have all at some time eaten the fruit from trees that we did not plant. In the fullness of time, when it is our turn to give, it behooves us in turn to plant gardens that we may never eat the fruit of, which will largely benefit generations to come. I believe this is our sacred responsibility, one that I hope you will shoulder in time.


 Thank you for your patience. Go forth and embrace your future with open arms, and pursue enthusiastically your own life journey of discovery!




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Inspiring Speech by J.K.Rowling, author of Harry Potter Novels.



The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination

By J.K. Rowling



Speech at  Harvard University Commencement, June 5, 2008.


 President Faust, members of the Harvard Corporation and the Board of Overseers, members of the faculty, proud parents, and, above all, graduates,


 The first thing I would like to say is ‘thank you.’ Not only has Harvard given me an extraordinary honor, but the weeks of fear and nausea I’ve experienced at the thought of giving this commencement address have made me lose weight. A win-win situation! Now all I have to do is take deep breaths, squint at the red banners and fool myself into believing I am at the world’s best-educated Harry Potter convention.


 Delivering a commencement address is a great responsibility; or so I thought until I cast my mind back to my own graduation. The commencement speaker that day was the distinguished British philosopher Baroness Mary Warnock. Reflecting on her speech has helped me enormously in writing this one, because it turns out that I can’t remember a single word she said. This liberating discovery enables me to proceed without any fear that I might inadvertently influence you to abandon promising careers in business, law or politics for the giddy delights of becoming a gay wizard.


 You see? If all you remember in years to come is the ‘gay wizard’ joke, I’ve still come out ahead of Baroness Mary Warnock. Achievable goals: the first step towards personal improvement.


 Actually, I have wracked my mind and heart for what I ought to say to you today. I have asked myself what I wish I had known at my own graduation, and what important lessons I have learned in the 21 years that has expired between that day and this.


 I have come up with two answers. On this wonderful day when we are gathered together to celebrate your academic success, I have decided to talk to you about the benefits of failure. And as you stand on the threshold of what is sometimes called ‘real life’, I want to extol the crucial importance of imagination.


 These might seem quixotic or paradoxical choices, but please bear with me.


 Looking back at the 21-year-old that I was at graduation, is a slightly uncomfortable experience for the 42-year-old that she has become. Half my lifetime ago, I was striking an uneasy balance between the ambition I had for myself, and what those closest to me expected of me.


 I was convinced that the only thing I wanted to do, ever, was to write novels. However, my parents, both of whom came from impoverished backgrounds and neither of whom had been to college, took the view that my overactive imagination was an amusing personal quirk that could never pay a mortgage, or secure a pension.


 They had hoped that I would take a vocational degree; I wanted to study English Literature. A compromise was reached that in retrospect satisfied nobody, and I went up to study Modern Languages. Hardly had my parents’ car rounded the corner at the end of the road than I ditched German and scuttled off down the Classics corridor.


 I cannot remember telling my parents that I was studying Classics; they might well have found out for the first time on graduation day. Of all subjects on this planet, I think they would have been hard put to name one less useful than Greek mythology when it came to securing the keys to an executive bathroom.


I would like to make it clear, in parenthesis, that I do not blame my parents for their point of view. There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you. What is more, I cannot criticize my parents for hoping that I would never experience poverty. They had been poor themselves, and I have since been poor, and I quite agree with them that it is not an ennobling experience. Poverty entails fear, and stress, and sometimes depression; it means a thousand petty humiliations and hardships. Climbing out of poverty by your own efforts, that is indeed something on which to pride yourself, but poverty itself is romanticized only by fools.


 What I feared most for myself at your age was not poverty, but failure.


 At your age, in spite of a distinct lack of motivation at university, where I had spent far too long in the coffee bar writing stories, and far too little time at lectures, I had a knack for passing examinations, and that, for years, had been the measure of success in my life and that of my peers.


 I am not dull enough to suppose that because you are young, gifted and well-educated, you have never known hardship or heartbreak. Talent and intelligence never yet inoculated anyone against the caprice of the Fates, and I do not for a moment suppose that everyone here has enjoyed an existence of unruffled privilege and contentment.


 However, the fact that you are graduating from Harvard suggests that you are not very well-acquainted with failure. You might be driven by a fear of failure quite as much as a desire for success. Indeed, your conception of failure might not be too far from the average person’s idea of success, so high have you already flown academically.


 Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure, but the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it. So I think it fair to say that by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.


 Now, I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun. That period of my life was a dark one, and I had no idea that there was going to be what the press has since represented as a kind of fairy tale resolution. I had no idea how far the tunnel extended, and for a long time, any light at the end of it was a hope rather than a reality.


 So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had already been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.


 You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.


 Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above rubies.


 The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more to me than any qualification I ever earned.


 Given a time machine or a Time Turner, I would tell my 21-year-old self that personal happiness lies in knowing that life is not a check-list of acquisition or achievement. Your qualifications, your CV, are not your life, though you will meet many people of my age and older who confuse the two. Life is difficult, and complicated, and beyond anyone’s total control, and the humility to know that will enable you to survive its vicissitudes.


 You might think that I chose my second theme, the importance of imagination, because of the part it played in rebuilding my life, but that is not wholly so. Though I will defend the value of bedtime stories to my last gasp, I have learned to value imagination in a much broader sense. Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathize with humans whose experiences we have never shared.


 One of the greatest formative experiences of my life preceded Harry Potter, though it informed much of what I subsequently wrote in those books. This revelation came in the form of one of my earliest day jobs. Though I was sloping off to write stories during my lunch hours, I paid the rent in my early 20s by working in the research department at Amnesty International’s headquarters in London.


 There in my little office I read hastily scribbled letters smuggled out of totalitarian regimes by men and women who were risking imprisonment to inform the outside world of what was happening to them. I saw photographs of those who had disappeared without trace, sent to Amnesty by their desperate families and friends. I read the testimony of torture victims and saw pictures of their injuries. I opened handwritten, eye-witness accounts of summary trials and executions, of kidnappings and rapes.


 Many of my co-workers were ex-political prisoners, people who had been displaced from their homes, or fled into exile, because they had the temerity to think independently of their government. Visitors to our office included those who had come to give information, or to try and find out what had happened to those they had been forced to leave behind.


 I shall never forget the African torture victim, a young man no older than I was at the time, who had become mentally ill after all he had endured in his homeland. He trembled uncontrollably as he spoke into a video camera about the brutality inflicted upon him. He was a foot taller than I was, and seemed as fragile as a child. I was given the job of escorting him to the Underground Station afterwards, and this man whose life had been shattered by cruelty took my hand with exquisite courtesy, and wished me future happiness.


 And as long as I live I shall remember walking along an empty corridor and suddenly hearing, from behind a closed door, a scream of pain and horror such as I have never heard since. The door opened, and the researcher poked out her head and told me to run and make a hot drink for the young man sitting with her. She had just given him the news that in retaliation for his own outspokenness against his country’s regime, his mother had been seized and executed.


 Every day of my working week in my early 20s I was reminded how incredibly fortunate I was, to live in a country with a democratically elected government, where legal representation and a public trial were the rights of everyone.


 Every day, I saw more evidence about the evils humankind will inflict on their fellow humans, to gain or maintain power. I began to have nightmares, literal nightmares, about some of the things I saw, heard and read.


 And yet I also learned more about human goodness at Amnesty International than I had ever known before.


Amnesty mobilizes thousands of people who have never been tortured or imprisoned for their beliefs to act on behalf of those who have. The power of human empathy, leading to collective action, saves lives, and frees prisoners. Ordinary people, whose personal well-being and security are assured, join together in huge numbers to save people they do not know, and will never meet. My small participation in that process was one of the most humbling and inspiring experiences of my life.


 Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people’s minds, imagine themselves into other people’s places.


 Of course, this is a power, like my brand of fictional magic, that is morally neutral. One might use such an ability to manipulate, or control, just as much as to understand or sympathize.


 And many prefer not to exercise their imaginations at all. They choose to remain comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never troubling to wonder how it would feel to have been born other than they are. They can refuse to hear screams or to peer inside cages; they can close their minds and hearts to any suffering that does not touch them personally; they can refuse to know.


 I might be tempted to envy people who can live that way, except that I do not think they have any fewer nightmares than I do. Choosing to live in narrow spaces can lead to a form of mental agoraphobia, and that brings its own terrors. I think the willfully unimaginative see more monsters. They are often more afraid.


 What is more, those who choose not to empathize may enable real monsters. For without ever committing an act of outright evil ourselves, we collude with it, through our own apathy.


 One of the many things I learned at the end of that Classics corridor down which I ventured at the age of 18, in search of something I could not then define, was this, written by the Greek author Plutarch: What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.


 That is an astonishing statement and yet proven a thousand times every day of our lives. It expresses, in part, our inescapable connection with the outside world, the fact that we touch other people’s lives simply by existing.


 But how much more are you, Harvard graduates of 2008, likely to touch other people’s lives? Your intelligence, your capacity for hard work, the education you have earned and received, give you unique status, and unique responsibilities. Even your nationality sets you apart. The great majority of you belong to the world’s only remaining superpower. The way you vote, the way you live, the way you protest, the pressure you bring to bear on your government, has an impact way beyond your borders. That is your privilege, and your burden.


If you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the powerful, but with the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence, but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped transform for the better. We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.


 I am nearly finished. I have one last hope for you, which is something that I already had at 21. The friends with whom I sat on graduation day have been my friends for life. They are my children’s godparents, the people to whom I’ve been able to turn in times of trouble, friends who have been kind enough not to sue me when I’ve used their names for Death Eaters. At our graduation we were bound by enormous affection, by our shared experience of a time that could never come again, and, of course, by the knowledge that we held certain photographic evidence that would be exceptionally valuable if any of us ran for Prime Minister.


 So today, I can wish you nothing better than similar friendships. And tomorrow, I hope that even if you remember not a single word of mine, you remember those of Seneca, another of those old Romans I met when I fled down the Classics corridor, in retreat from career ladders, in search of ancient wisdom:


 As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.


 I wish you all very good lives.


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Sean Connery’s rags to riches story

Not everyone is born with a silver spoon in his mouth, and no one knows this better than Scottish actor Sir Sean Connery, who’s lived the rags to riches story.

Connery was born in Fountainbridge, Edinburgh, to poor parents, and a house that had no bathroom, only a communal toilet outside.

The actor, the youngest in the family, slept in the bottom drawer of a wardrobe until he was eight. Things only got worse when World War II broke out.

“I was nine when the Second World War broke out. We were living in Edinburgh in real poverty. We didn’t have the luxury of worrying about our inner selves,” Daily Express quoted him as having revealed.

He had limited education, leaving school at 13 to go to work as a milkman with St Cuthbert’s Co-operative Society.

“I educated myself, which may be why I still sometimes feel just like a little boy when I meet intellectuals,” he has said.

Employment records from 1944 show that aged 14, Connery earned 21 shillings a week as a barrow pusher. By 16 he had his own milk cart, making him the envy of every teenage milkie in town, but at 17 he joined the Royal Navy as an able seaman.

Two years later he was discharged on medical grounds because of a duodenal ulcer and returned to Edinburgh where he worked in a steel mill, delivering coal and polishing coffins at a cabinet makers.

In late 1951 he landed a part-time job as a stagehand at the King’s Theatre. He was also in demand as a model at the Edinburgh College of Art after taking up bodybuilding.

It was his impressive physique that provided him with a route out of working-class life, for in 1953, at the age of 22, he came third in the junior section of the Mr Universe contest in London and while in town heard a report that young men were being auditioned for a production of South Pacific at the Theatre Royal.

“How much am I getting?” was his first question on being chosen.

“That doesn’t concern me,” sniffed the producer.

“Well,” said the gruff Scotsman, “it concerns me.”

Connery revealed that there had been one time when he had been offered to play football by Matt Busby, the manager of Manchester United, with a contract worth 25 pounds-a-week, but refused, as it was not a long lasting job.

“I realised that a top-class footballer could be over the hill by the age of 30 and I was already 23. I decided to be an actor and it turned out to be one of my more intelligent moves,” he had stated.

Regarding how he became James Bond, he recalled how he almost lost the role, as his broad shoulders and Scottish accent, led the creator of 007, Ian Fleming, to insist that the burly Connery was not at all the Bond he had envisaged.

They met in the early Sixties after the young actor won the career-defining role following his fledgling career on stage and television, including a part in a BBC production of Anna Karenina.

“I thought we were getting Commander Bond, not an overgrown stuntman,” Fleming is said to have mused as he analysed Connery’s muscled 6ft 2in frame.

But Connery had the requisite mix of sexual attraction and aggression needed for the part and eventually won over Fleming.

He attributed his success to his upbringing and to his inner strength.

What I do know is that I’ve had an extraordinary life. What’s more, I started out with no qualifications. And however good life is to me, I never forget that. I never forget where I came from and that’s my strength,” he said.

The Scot says of the influences that shaped him: “I got my education in the great school of life. I started so low I could only go up. My experiences have made me the man I am today,” he added.

Connery provided the whole fascinating insight while discussing his long-awaited memoir Being A Scot, due to be published next month. (ANI)


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Inspiring Story of Subroto Bagchi, MindTree CEO – ‘Go Kiss the World’.

I was the last child of a small-time government servant, in a family of five brothers. My earliest memory of my father is as that of a District Employment Officer in Koraput, Orissa. It was and remains as back of beyond as you can imagine. There was no electricity; no primary school nearby and water did not flow out of a tap. As a result, I did not go to school until the age of eight; I was home-schooled. My father used to get transferred every year. The family belongings fit into the back of a jeep – so the family moved from place to place and, without any trouble, my Mother would set up an establishment and get us going. Raised by a widow who had come as a refugee from the then East Bengal, she was a matriculate when she married my Father. My parents set the foundation of my life and the value system which makes me what I am today and largely defines what success means to me today.

As District Employment Officer, my father was given a jeep by the government. There was no garage in the Office, so the jeep was parked in our house. My father refused to use it to commute to the office. He told us that the jeep is an expensive resource given by the government – he reiterated to us that it was not ‘his jeep’ but the government’s jeep. Insisting that he would use it only to tour the interiors, he would walk to his office on normal days. He also made sure that we never sat in the government jeep – we could sit in it only when it was stationary. That was our early childhood lesson in governance – a lesson that corporate managers learn the hard way, some never do.

The driver of the jeep was treated with respect due to any other member of my Father’s office. As small children, we were taught not to call him by his name. We had to use the suffix ‘dada’ whenever we were to refer to him in public or private. When I grew up to own a car and a driver by the name of Raju was appointed – I repeated the lesson to my two small daughters. They have, as a result, grown up to call Raju, ‘Raju Uncle’ – very different from many of their friends who refer to their family drivers as ‘my driver’. When I hear that term from a school- or college-going person, I cringe. To me, the lesson was significant – you treat small people with more respect than how you treat big people. It is more important to respect your subordinates than your superiors.

Our day used to start with the family huddling around my Mother’s chulha – an earthen fire place she would build at each place of posting where she would cook for the family. There was no gas, nor electrical stoves. The morning routine started with tea. As the brew was served, Father would ask us to read aloud the editorial page of The Statesman’s ‘muffosil’ edition – delivered one day late. We did not understand much of what we were reading. But the ritual was meant for us to know that the world was larger than Koraput district and the English I speak today, despite having studied in an Oriya medium school, has to do with that routine. After reading the newspaper aloud, we were told to fold it neatly. Father taught us a simple lesson. He used to say, “You should leave your newspaper and your toilet, the way you expect to find it”.

That lesson was about showing consideration to others. Business begins and ends with that simple precept.

Being small children, we were always enamored with advertisements in the newspaper for transistor radios – we did not have one. We saw other people having radios in their homes and each time there was an advertisement of Philips, Murphy or Bush radios, we would ask Father when we could get one. Each time, my Father would reply that we did not need one because he already had five radios – alluding to his five sons. We also did not have a house of our own and would occasionally ask Father as to when, like others, we would live in our own house. He would give a similar reply, “We do not need a house of our own. I already own five houses”. His replies did not gladden our hearts in that instant. Nonetheless, we learnt that it is important not to measure personal success and sense of well being through material possessions.

Government houses seldom came with fences. Mother and I collected twigs and built a small fence. After lunch, my Mother would never sleep. She would take her kitchen utensils and with those she and I would dig the rocky, white ant infested surrounding. We planted flowering bushes. The white ants destroyed them. My mother brought ash from her chulha and mixed it in the earth and we planted the seedlings all over again. This time, they bloomed. At that time, my father’s transfer order came. A few neighbors told my mother why she was taking so much pain to beautify a government house, why she was planting seeds that would only benefit the next occupant. My mother replied that it did not matter to her that she would not see the flowers in full bloom. She said, “I have to create a bloom in a desert and whenever I am given a new place, I must leave it more beautiful than what I had inherited”. That was my first lesson in success. It is not about what you create for yourself, it is what you leave behind that defines success.

My mother began developing a cataract in her eyes when I was very small. At that time, the eldest among my brothers got a teaching job at the University in Bhubaneswar and had to prepare for the civil services examination. So, it was decided that my Mother would move to cook for him and, as her appendage, I had to move too. For the first time in my life, I saw electricity in homes and water coming out of a tap. It was around 1965 and the country was going to war with Pakistan. My mother was having problems reading and in any case, being Bengali, she did not know the Oriya script. So, in addition to my daily chores, my job was to read her the local newspaper – end to end. That created in me a sense of connectedness with a larger world. I began taking interest in many different things. While reading out news about the war, I felt that I was fighting the war myself. She and I discussed the daily news and built a bond with the larger universe. In it, we became part of a larger reality. Till date, I measure my success in terms of that sense of larger connectedness.

Meanwhile, the war raged and India was fighting on both fronts. Lal Bahadur Shastri, the then Prime Minster, coined the term “Jai Jawan, Jai Kishan” and galvanized the nation in to patriotic fervor. Other than reading out the newspaper to my mother, I had no clue about how I could be part of the action. So, after reading her the newspaper, every day I would land up near the University’s water tank, which served the community. I would spend hours under it, imagining that there could be spies who would come to poison the water and I had to watch for them. I would daydream about catching one and how the next day, I would be featured in the newspaper. Unfortunately for me, the spies at war ignored the sleepy town of Bhubaneswar and I never got a chance to catch one in action. Yet, that act unlocked my imagination. Imagination is everything. If we can imagine a future, we can create it, if we can create that future, others will live in it. That is the essence of success.

Over the next few years, my mother’s eyesight dimmed but in me she created a larger vision, a vision with which I continue to see the world and, I sense, through my eyes, she was seeing too. As the next few years unfolded, her vision deteriorated and she was operated for cataract. I remember, when she returned after her operation and she saw my face clearly for the first time, she was astonished. She said, “Oh my God, I did not know you were so fair”. I remain mighty pleased with that adulation even till date. Within weeks of getting her sight back, she developed a corneal ulcer and, overnight, became blind in both eyes.

That was 1969. She died in 2002. In all those 32 years of living with blindness, she never complained about her fate even once. Curious to know what she saw with blind eyes, I asked her once if she sees darkness. She replied, “No, I do not see darkness. I only see light even with my eyes closed”. Until she was eighty years of age, she did her morning yoga everyday, swept her own room and washed her own clothes. To me, success is about the sense of independence; it is about not seeing the world but seeing the light.

Over the many intervening years, I grew up, studied, joined the industry and began to carve my life’s own journey. I began my life as a clerk in a government office, went on to become a Management Trainee with the DCM group and eventually found my life’s calling with the IT industry when fourth generation computers came to India in 1981. Life took me places – I worked with outstanding people, challenging assignments and traveled all over the world. In 1992, while I was posted in the US, I learnt that my father, living a retired life with my eldest brother, had suffered a third degree burn injury and was admitted in the Safderjung Hospital in Delhi. I flew back to attend to him – he remained for a few days in critical stage, bandaged from neck to toe. The Safderjung Hospital is a cockroach infested, dirty, inhuman place. The overworked, under-resourced sisters in the burn ward are both victims and perpetrators of dehumanized life at its worst. One morning, while attending to my Father, I realized that the blood bottle was empty and fearing that air would go into his vein, I asked the attending nurse to change it. She bluntly told me to do it myself. In that horrible theater of death, I was in pain and frustration and anger. Finally when she relented and came, my Father opened his eyes and murmured to her, “Why have you not gone home yet?” Here was a man on his deathbed but more concerned about the overworked nurse than his own state. I was stunned at his stoic self. There I learnt that there is no limit to how concerned you can be for another human being and what is the limit of inclusion you can create. My father died the next day.

He was a man whose success was defined by his principles, his frugality, his universalism and his sense of inclusion. Above all, he taught me that success is your ability to rise above your discomfort, whatever may be your current state. You can, if you want, raise your consciousness above your immediate surroundings. Success is not about building material comforts – the transistor that he never could buy or the house that he never owned. His success was about the legacy he left, the mimetic continuity of his ideals that grew beyond the smallness of a ill-paid, unrecognized government servant’s world.

My father was a fervent believer in the British Raj. He sincerely doubted the capability of the post-independence Indian political parties to govern the country. To him, the lowering of the Union Jack was a sad event. My Mother was the exact opposite. When Subhash Bose quit the Indian National Congress and came to Dacca, my mother, then a schoolgirl, garlanded him. She learnt to spin khadi and joined an underground movement that trained her in using daggers and swords. Consequently, our household saw diversity in the political outlook of the two. On major issues concerning the world, the Old Man and the Old Lady had differing opinions. In them, we learnt the power of disagreements, of dialogue and the essence of living with diversity in thinking. Success is not about the ability to create a definitive dogmatic end state; it is about the unfolding of thought processes, of dialogue and continuum.

Two years back, at the age of eighty-two, Mother had a paralytic stroke and was lying in a government hospital in Bhubaneswar. I flew down from the US where I was serving my second stint, to see her. I spent two weeks with her in the hospital as she remained in a paralytic state. She was neither getting better nor moving on. Eventually I had to return to work. While leaving her behind, I kissed her face. In that paralytic state and a garbled voice, she said, “Why are you kissing me, go kiss the world.” Her river was nearing its journey, at the confluence of life and death, this woman who came to India as a refugee, raised by a widowed Mother, no more educated than high school, married to an anonymous government servant whose last salary was Rupees Three Hundred, robbed of her eyesight by fate and crowned by adversity – was telling me to go and kiss the world!

Success to me is about Vision. It is the ability to rise above the immediacy of pain. It is about imagination. It is about sensitivity to small people. It is about building inclusion. It is about connectedness to a larger world existence. It is about personal tenacity. It is about giving back more to life than you take out of it. It is about creating extra-ordinary success with ordinary lives.

Thank you very much; I wish you good luck and Godspeed. Go, kiss the world.

As told by Subroto Bagchi.

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How an average student became Mahatma Gandhi?

If you’ve assumed that Mahatma Gandhi was one of the brightest students in class or one of the most outstanding student leaders in his youth, then you may be in for a surprise.

Not only was he a mediocre student, he was a very quiet and shy teenager too. But did that stop him from becoming India’s “Father of the Nation”?


It’s a great piece of news for us! Because, if you’ve been through a similar situation, all is not lost yet! You’re still able to create your own story of victory… just like Gandhi.

A Family Disappointment

Born into a mid-ranking caste family, Mohandas K. or Mahatama (“Great-Souled”) Gandhi had a low self esteem when he was young. Because of that, he seldom stayed back after school to interact with other classmates for fear of being ridiculed at. That was also part of the reason for his early unhappiness in his marriage (when he was 13 years old) as his young bride had difficulty accommodating to his impatient, jealous and demanding outbursts.

He didn’t do well in school either. After struggling to graduate from high school, he moved on to study medicine in a local university only to fail badly and subsequently, forced to quit. At that time, he had only attended that university for only 5 months.

In their desperate bid to help the young man, his family decided to send him to England to study law, a course that they believed he would be able to cope. They pooled all the financial resources that they could get and finally sent the excited Gandhi off to London to embark on a fresh new start.

Life In London

A stranger in a foreign land, Gandhi had difficulty adjusting to the seasonal weather in London and would often be teased for his inappropriate seasonal attire and his poor command of the English language. To make up for all those, he worked very hard, trying to excel in both his studies and other curricular activities such as French, dancing, violin and elocution. He also tried to improve on his dressing by buying more suits.

Those proved to be short lived as he found himself running out of money gradually.

To cut costs, he gave up his hotel for a small room and walked instead of traveling on buses. He also changed his diet, switching English meals for simple vegetarian fare. Interestingly, those newly adopted lifestyle habits formed the basis of his lessons on health and simple living subsequently.

His Debut in the Court

During those times in London, Gandhi couldn’t wait to return home. The day after he passed his exams and was appointed to the bar, he made his trip back, only to be notified that his beloved mother had passed away while he was still traveling.

He then decided to leave for Bombay where he would not be reminded of his grief, to practice law. Sadly, life struck back again. Due to his inadequate knowledge about the Indian law, he had difficulty getting a case. Even when he finally secured one, he had stage fright at the last moment and abandon the courtroom abruptly, leaving his colleague to conduct the cross examination. It was a disgraceful debut.

Turning Point

His inability to succeed as a lawyer drove Gandhi back home again. With the help of his brother, Gandhi decided to go South Africa and take up a clerical position, at the expense of leaving his wife and 2 sons behind after barely 2 years back home.

But it wasn’t all that smooth sailing in South Africa either. Instead of landing on a clerical position, he realized that he was engaged for a civil suit that required strong accounting knowledge and detailed legal analysis. The realities of the life and the harsh discrimination against Indians in the country cornered Gandhi into making a decision whether he should pack his bags and leave South Africa or stay on to fight the case, until one day something happened.

While riding on the first class carriage on the train to another town, he was ordered to move to the freight compartment. When he refused, he was unceremoniously driven off the carriage. As he waited in the station for the next available coach, thoughts of his present circumstances flooded his mind. It suddenly dawned on him that despite changing his environment each time, he was still unable to avoid the challenging issues ahead. He realized that it was cowardice of him to shun away from his fears instead of helping the people to fight for the rights they deserve!

A Lawyer, A Human Rights Campaigner

Gandhi then started working hard on the case, drilling into the details zestfully. With his diligence and perseverance, he learned a lot about the case and counteracted against the punitive nature of the lawsuit by persuading his client and the other party to settle on an amicable reconciliation out of court.

His apt handling of the suit earned the respect of the Indian community so much so that he was asked to delay his departure back home to help them on another case to fight for the rights of Indian settlers in the country. That catalyzed his involvement into politics.

He would propose political negotiations with British leaders whom he regarded as his equal, work with people from different castes, religions and nationalities to achieve harmony in coexistence, fight for his country’s independence and set the highest standards for his people. All his work for civil rights, India’s Independence and active propagation of love and peace wouldn’t have been possible if not for his firm conviction that all people possess the innate capability to change from within, in the pursuit of what’s right.

What Did I Learn From This Story?

That the person you see in the mirror everyday while brushing your teeth, combing your hair etc is the person responsible for your life. Yes. That, is none other than yourself.

(1) Your Innate Potential Can Be Unlocked By Yourself

Who would have imagined that the shy and introverted boy who refused to stay back after school to interact with his classmates for fear of being laughed at, to be able to speak with such eloquence and persuasion, winning over the whole nation in his pursuit for India’s independence? Who would have expected the young timid lawyer who scrammed the courtrooms at the slightest tinge of fear to be able to stand up against tyranny and injustice?

It would be after the fact irony to say that someone probably did. That Gandhi had the good fortune to meet a good mentor who was able to see the potential in him that others didn’t. But the truth was, there was no such person in his life at that time.

But Gandhi didn’t wait.

He chose to be the miner and let the bolt of realization at the train station’s waiting area guide him in unearthing and polishing the gem hidden in a tad of dirty mud. Himself.

What about you? Did you choose to wait and see if there’s opportunities for you to develop yourself or actively seek to find such opportunities?

(2) Stop Blaming & Take Accountability

We live in a blame society.

We blame the fast food chains for producing junk food that makes people obese. But we ignored the fact that people willingly subject themselves to eating such food. We blame the Internet for being a source of violence and pornography for the kids but we forget that it’s the responsibility of parents to monitor and teach their children the right values in interpreting such information. We argue that our current predicament is a result of a lack of certain resources, overlooking the fact that those resources are not necessary to improve our situation in the first place!

In the midst of this blaming culture, it’s easy to possess a distorted view of the issue and fail to notice the essence of the problem, isn’t it? The problem never gets resolved. It just gets bigger.

This is where I think we can learn from Gandhi. Even though he was involved in the blame game in the earlier part of his life, he subsequently took accountability for it. His enlightenment started from the realization that no matter how his environment changed, if his mentality, attitude and internal mettle were still the same, he would never be able to breakthrough the chain.

And when he stopped blaming, the piece of filth clogging his visibility removed itself, allowing him to see the crux of his problem. Himself again.



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Ratan Tata’s words of inspiration

  On courage: I am, unfortunately, a person who has often said: You put a gun to my head and pull the trigger or take the gun away, I won’t move my head.


  On successful people: I admire people who are very successful. But if that success has been achieved through too much ruthlessness, then I may admire that person, but I can’t respect him.


  On leadership: It is easy to become a number one player, but it is difficult to remain number one. So, we will have to fight with a view to remain number one.


  On Nano: This project (the Nano) has proven to everyone that if you really set yourself to doing something, you actually can do it.


  On the need to think big: We have been. . . thinking small. And if we look around us, countries like China have grown so much by thinking big. I would urge that we all, in the coming years, think big, think of doing things not in small increments, not in small deltas, but seemingly impossible things. But nothing is impossible if you really set out to do so. And we act boldly. Because it is this thinking big and acting boldly that will move India up in a manner different from where it is today.


  On risk: Risk is a necessary part of business philosophy. You can be risk-averse and take no risks, in which case you will have a certain trajectory in terms of your growth. Or you can, while being prudent, take greater risk in order to grow faster.


  On risk: I view risk as an ability to be where no one has been before. I view risk to be an issue of thinking big, something we did not do previously. We did everything in small increments so we always lagged behind. But the crucial question is: can we venture putting a man on the moon or risk billions of rupees on a really way-out, advanced project in, say, superconductors? Do you restrict your risk to something close to your heart?


  On employees: The way to hold employees today is to make their work and their day-to-day activities in the company exciting enough for them to stay. Not everyone will stay, but I think if we can empower more people and are willing to pass on the responsibility for that, and if people are satisfied and motivated, there’s less chance of them wanting to leave and go to a competitor.


  On low-cost products: It should not be, cannot be, that low-cost products come to mean inferior or sub-standard products and services; definitely not. The aim is to create products for that larger segment — good and robust products that we are able to produce innovatively and get to the marketplace at lower costs.


  On customers: We should be treating the customer in the same way that we would want to be treated as customers.


  On innovation:Barriers to innovation are usually in the mind.


  On customers:There was a need to re-focus and look at how your customer sees you, and to pay more attention to what the customer wants rather than what you think she wants. Are you really the most cost effective producer? Are you aggressive enough to grab marketshare? Will you endeavour to dip your toe in the water and do something that you haven’t done before?


  On innovation:If you are a little innovative or a little bit of a gambler, and you make a product which is either ahead of its time or has an evolutionary design, or has features that work into a person’s perception, then you have an acceptable product.


  On questioning:I kept saying, please question the unquestionable. I tried to tell our younger managers just don’t accept something that was done in the past, don’t accept something as a holy cow. . . go question it. That was less of a problem than getting our senior managers not to tell the younger managers, ‘Look young man, don’t question me.’


  On speed:Today, the world does not afford you to luxury of being a slow mover. Nor are there any holy cows. We have to be aggressive, be far-sighted enough to look into the future and we also have to be pragmatic enough to say that if we really are not in a leadership position in a particular business, we should look at exiting that business.


  On icons:The kind of company one would want to emulate is one where products and technology are at the leading edge, dealings with customers are very fair, services are of a high order, and business ethics are transparent and straightforward. A less tangible issue involves the work environment, which should not be one where you are stressed and driven to the point of being drugged.


  On introspection:All companies need to keep looking at their business definition and, possibly from time to time, to see if that definition needs to be redefined. If you take the example of Tata Steel, they could say that they are a steel company and find themselves in a shrinking market where steel is under threat of being replaced by some other material. The question is: what do we call ourselves? One view was that steel is a material, so can we be a materials company? We don’t have to be in all materials, but can we be in composites, can we be in plastics, laminates, etc? The automotive business needs to think similarly, and so does the chemicals business. We have to keep looking at ourselves and asking: what is our business?


  On innovation: My outlook on R&D is that it is an absolutely necessary thing for us to do. And I don’t think we are doing enough. The point is not just spending money; it’s how many patents you file, your innovation rate and your product development. . . If today you were to give everybody a mandate that they can spend 3 per cent of their revenue on R&D, assuming they can spare the money, I don’t think many companies would know the what, where and how of spending that kind of money, other than to put up an R&D place and buy lots of equipment.


  On customer relationship: Where we have direct dealings with our customers, it is important that, at the middle-management levels, they are shown courtesy, dealt with fairly, and made to feel that they are receiving the attention they deserve. The interface with the customer should be a seamless one.


  On risk: There have been occasions where I have been a risk-taker. Perhaps more than some, and less so than certain others. It is a question of where you view that from. I have never been a real gambler in the sense, that some successful businessmen have been.


  On ethics: What worries me is that the threshold of acceptability or the line between acceptability and non-acceptability in terms of values, business ethics, etc, is blurring.


  On success: I would not consider myself to have been tremendously successful or as having failed tremendously. I would say I have been moderately successful because there have been changes.


  On survival: The strong live and the weak die. There is some bloodshed, and out of it emerges a much leaner industry, which tends to survive.


 On challenges: If there are challenges thrown across and those challenges are difficult then some interesting, innovative solutions will come. If you don’t have those challenges then, I think, the tendency is go on to say that whatever will happen, will take place in small deltas.


  On planning: We never really plan big. We are not in keeping with what is happening around us. When you go to other countries around us you see it visibly that we are just back in time. And yet we have so much to offer.


  On commitment: We have to clamp down on deviations from commitments. For ensuring greater commitment to performance, we also need to have a system which rewards performers and punishes those who don’t perform.


  On risk: We have is to be less risk-averse. We have been a very conservative house and we have been applauded for our conservatism but today we need to take more risk. We don’t need to be flamboyant or cavalier but we need to be less conservative than we have been.


  On the future: One hundred years from now, I expect the Tatas to be much bigger than it is now. More importantly, I hope the Group comes to be regarded as being the best in India. . . best in the manner in which we operate, best in the products we deliver, and best in our value systems and ethics. Having said that, I hope that a hundred years from now we will spread our wings far beyond India.


  On resistance: You will probably find the resistance (to change) more from those who haven’t been doing well.


  On change: Change is seen to be needed, and fast, so long as it does not affect me. We want to see change but if you suddenly tell me that I am the company that has to go, or has to be cut in half, or three of my businesses have to be hived off, then all of a sudden, the very person who made the noise about change is now saying, ‘You don’t have to do this.’


  On humility: I would hope that as people who might take an elite position, would be considered amongst the elite in the country, you will always display humility in the manner in which you deal with your fellowmen, both in your company and in the country and you will continue to have passion in the areas in which you will work.


  On doubt: On many, many occasions you would have doubts on whether what you are pursuing is the right thing. But if you do believe in what you are trying to do and you pursue it and stay with it in a determined manner, I am quite sure you will succeed.


On problems: There are solutions for most problems. The barriers and roadblocks that we face are usually of our own making and these can only be demolished by having the determination to find a solution, even contrary to the conventional wisdom that prevails around us, by breaking tradition.




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India’s youngest 17 yr old MTech from IIT Chennai

When most students his age are in college, S Chandrasekar has won a gold medal in Computer Science at IIT Madras. At 17, he is the youngest Indian to have aced Masters in Technology with a CGPA (Cumulative Grade Point Average) of 9.85 on a scale of 10.

Take a quick look at his curriculum vitae and you would think that Sekar — as he is addressed by his friends, family and peers — was always destined to achieve this feat.

At 9 he became the world’s youngest Microsoft Certified Professional, MCP. At 10, he was the world’s youngest Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer, MCSE. The very next year he had the distinction of becoming a Cisco Certified Network Associate, CCNA.

By 2002 Sekar had decided to go for an engineering course. However, he was only eleven then — he was born on September 25, 1990 — and children that age are hardly considered as engineering prospects. It was the vice-chancellor of Anna University, Dr Balaguruswamy, who decided to set up a six-member committee to appraise Sekar’s talents. No marks for guessing what happened then for Sekar’s genius won the day and he was soon admitted to an under graduate course in Computer Science.

In July 2006 he found himself doing his MTech in Computer Science at IIT Madras after he scored 99.32 percentile in Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering, a prerequisite for getting admission into IITs post graduate courses.

In a telephonic interview from Chennai, Sekar spoke to Prasanna D Zore about his childhood days, his favourite sportsperson, people who played a crucial role in his career till now and his future plans.

Were you always so brilliant since your childhood days?

Yes. I used to be very fast in school also. I used to top my school regularly.

Sports that you played while in school?

I was essentially very keen on playing soccer and cricket in my school days. However, after Class VI, at the age of eleven, I joined a bachelor in engineering course in Computer Science at AK College of Engineering.

How was that possible? From Class VI to an undergraduation course in Computer Science?

By the time I was eleven I had completed three international certification courses: MCP, MCSE and CCNA. Based on my performance in these three certificates the vice-chancellor of Anna University, Dr Balaguruswamy called me. During our conversation the idea to admit me into a BE course popped up.

It was then decided to constitute a committee of six people who would evaluate me to check if I was fit enough to be admitted into an engineering course at such an early age. After thorough evaluation of my talent and aptitude the committee gave a green signal and I was admitted to an engineering course in Computer Science.

When did you complete your graduation in engineering?

I was admitted at 11 and by the time i turned 15, in 2006, I was an engineer in Computer Science. I passed throughout with first class with distinction.

How did an MTech at IIT Madras beckon?

When I was into my third year of engineering I gave my GATE. I scored 99.32 percentile in this test and became an alumnus of IIT Madras in 2006 as an MTech student in Computer Science.

Did you work very hard to get the 99.32 percentile in GATE?

Not actually. Like most of my colleagues I studied hard only for three months. I did not attend any specialised classes and for this I must thank my college professors for giving proper guidance.

Any difficulties that you faced through your academic journey?

Not many actually. Not at least in my school and IIT days. Of course, when I joined my engineering course at eleven it was some kind of a shock to attend college with students who were in their late teens.

Luckily enough nobody tried to rag me when I joined college. Most seniors treated me like their younger brother. However, within the next six months everything was normal and I began to feel a part of the campus environment.

About yourself…

I was born in Tirunelvelli. I am the only child in my family. My father is a practicing auditor and my mother works for Canara Bank . Currently I am working as a Researcher with Tata Consultancy Services at Chennai.

Who is your role model, your inspiration in life?

I would not like to single out any individual in particular. There are several people who have influenced me and are still a source of inspiration for me.

Some of them are S Ramadorai of TCS, Ratan Tata and N Narayanmurthy of Infosys, and also Sachin Tendulkar from the world of sports.

How does it feel to be the youngest MTech that India has produced yet?

I am indeed very happy and it is a proud moment for me, my professors and my family. However, this is just a starting point. There are many more milestones to be passed yet.

Who would you credit with for your success?

There are four-five people actually who have influenced me to achieve this feat.

My school helped me a lot when I was doing my MCSE and CCNA. They helped me by providing enough support and leave so that I could concentrate on these courses. Generally, you don’t expect a school to be happy about students bunking classes.

After that Covansys India supported me financially for almost six years till I finished my BE. I would also like to thank Dr Thangaraj, the principal of my college — AK College of Engineering (now Kalasalingam University), affiliated to Anna University — from where I did my engineering. He provided wonderful support and a good atmosphere when I was just eleven and entered a world where most other students were 7-8 years older than me. His support played a crucial role in my getting over my inhibitions about college life.

I would also like to thank TCS as they have been supporting me financially for the last two years and also my professors at IIT Madras.

Your future plans…

Currently, I am pursuing research in cryptography but I might enter a new area later. However, I would love to continue in the field of research in Computer Science.


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