Hail Sisyphus!

[Please check out this video before you read further.]

Who’s the person in this animation?

It can be anyone or all of these:

Name: Pankaj Shenoy; Role: Network Engineer; Primary Task: Monitoring health and efficiency of a voice-and-data network at a global multi-national bank; Work location: Chennai, India

Name: Michelle Davis; Role: Travel Coordinator; Py Task: Providing travel and immigration services at a tour operator; Work location: Birmingham, UK

Name: Sunil Singh; Role: Bus driver; Py Task: Driving employees from their home to factory and back, 6-days a week, on the company bus; Work location: Indore, India

Name: Bellissa Lorenzo; Role: Housekeeping Attendant; PyT: Cleaning services; Work location: Milan International Airport, Italy

Name: Sudha Amma; Role: Homemaker; PyT: Attending to all household needs of her husband and five children; Work location: Devanahalli (near Bangalore), India

Name: Klahan; Role: Gardener; PyT: Garden maintenance at a holiday resort; Work location: Krabi, Thailand

Name: Ryan Casey; Role: Seafood supplier; PyT: Supplying fresh catch to local grocery and food distributors; Work location: Cork, Ireland

Name: Athula Herath; Role: Primary School Teacher; PyT: Teaching Sinhalese language; Work Location: Kandy, Sri Lanka

Name: Gil Weinberg; Role: Kibbutz Secretary; PyT: Working at the chicken cooperative facility; Work location: Beit Alfa, a Kibbutz in North Israel

Who are these people? Why do they and their mundane work find a mention at one place in this article?

Because, I feel, they all are – Sisyphus !

sisyphus

In Greek mythology Sisyphus (/ˈsɪsᵻfəs/;[2] Greek: Σίσυφος, Sísuphos) was the king of Ephyra (now known as Corinth). He was punished by being forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, repeating this action for eternity.

There can be innumerable interpretations of the story of Sisyphus. The one that I resonate with is the Myth of Sisyphus, an essay by Albert Camus, a French-Algerian philosopher, author, and journalist. Camus saw Sisyphus as a metaphor for an individual’s persistent struggle against the essential monotony and absurdity of life. According to Camus, the first step an individual must take is to accept the fact of this absurdity. Despite the punishment, Camus concludes, “one must imagine Sisyphus happy” as “the struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart.”  Camus further argues that with the joyful acceptance of the struggle against defeat, the individual gains definition and identity.

It’s in their ordinariness, I feel, the Sisyphus’s demonstrate their extraordinariness. The world needs them, but may not know or recognize their presence. I wonder if this matters to them or they even care.

All I can say is – Hail Sisyphus!

______________________________________

[All names in the early part of this article are fictitious. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.]

My Hamlet Moment.

Summer, this year, has been quite severe. Apart from the necessary chores, I have preferred to stay indoors. But new directions are beckoning and new voices are being heard.

The gold-mohur tree standing tall outside my house is saying, “join me in my full bloom,” and I respond,

“A spark, a thought,

a word, a story.

To tame or not to,

that’s the question.”

tamingthebeast

Let it Simmer …

Today morning I decided to cook Rava Upma, a very common Indian breakfast dish made from Wheat Semolina (Rava). It’s quick and simple, just takes 10 minutes and its ready. 

Upma

The trick, however, is in the last phase of the cooking process – letting it simmer for a while, shutting off the gas stove and then covering the pan with a lid for about 5 minutes.

As I was watching over the simmer process today, Celebrity Chef Marco Pierre White’s words echoed in my ears. I guess it was in one of the episodes of MasterChef Australia’s Season 7 (2015), where Marco came down very hard on one of the competition participants who had accidentally burnt her dish that required slow and patient cooking. If I recall it right, with a cold stare Marco said, “good food requires its own heat to be cooked, you got to get out of the way and give it its own time.” My late maternal grand-mother (we used to lovingly call her Jiji) used to always say (in Marathi language) “anna khup shijvayche naste, te aplya garmi madhech changle shijte” (food should not be cooked intensely; it cooks well by itself in its own heat). Marco & Jiji have two things in common – both passionately love the science & art of cooking and feeding others!

As an Organization Development (OD) practitioner, I often experience this ‘Let-it-simmer’ phenomenon – both in its presence and absence. Being a living process, Organizations continuously evolve with three basic inquiries – what needs to change, what does it need to change to and how to bring about the change (Eli Goldratt’s ToC). The challenge however lies in setting expectations on how early the gains can be realized, if at all. Sponsors of the change process want to reach the destination quickly (which I guess is fair) and are looking for quick solutions and their providers – internal and/or external OD partners. However, as documented innumerable times, change processes are fraught with uncertainties. Known-Unknowns and Unknown-Unknowns are littered all over the path, with certainty and predictability being the expected outcomes in the journey. It’s an interesting paradox.

In almost all OD projects – be it individual or group coaching, small systems or large systems change, I keep encountering this paradox. And sadly or gladly (?), I have not been able to figure a way out of this paradox. May be this paradox is not a “problem-to-be-solved,” but a “reality-to-be-lived through.” And, the Let-it-simmer process offers me solace in living through this paradox. If at all, it seems to be the only process that continues to work for me.

Be it like a simple Rava Upma or a complex Blue-berry Cheese Cake, the trick seems to be – getting the right ingredients together, ensuring their right proportions, experimenting with the process, ensuring the right amount of heat or cold as the case may be, investing the required passion and energy, setting-up the stage and finally, getting out of the way to let-it-simmer till the potpourri transforms itself.

 

Jacuzzi and the pine forest.

It was a tough and a winding trail down the hill through rocks and boulders scattered all over the place. Many people seemed to have walked over this path earlier. Except for the trail path, the ground had shades of green, gray and brown – grass, fallen leaves, moss, little shrubs, broken twigs, uprooted branches, rocks and boulders.

From the heights, the lake was clearly visible  – the view partly interrupted by tall pine trees which seemed to be have been around for many years – a silent witness to all that was around. The pristine aqua-blue waters of the lake, fed and nurtured by recently melted snow, were inviting. But the trail that led to it was taking its own time to traverse – as if it may be eons before the lake shore is felt under the feet.

After a long and arduous day-long walk in the alpine forest, I was soaking in a hot jacuzzi built amongst tall pine trees, resting the tired body and mind. Human desire and ingenuity had created this sophisticated resort place amongst wild nature, somewhere in the northern temperate zone nearly 13000 Kms away from home.

Looking at the warm vapor rising from the jacuzzi waters, I said to myself:

“Battered and bruised,

the body-mind seeks rest;

It’s all here and now, both,

in the jacuzzi and the pine forest.”

jacuzziandpineforest

What a day!

A day trip to Mumbai got me in touch with interesting sights: early morning walkers gathering around a makeshift newspaper stand by the roadside, bunch of kids hurriedly boarding their school bus, a 3-wheeler carrying vegetables from the local market yard, few trucks lined up along a fuel station on the highway, a very busy 30-lane toll station collecting lots of cash each minute, a toppled car which seemed to have met with an accident, a food mall along the highway feeding hungry travelers, cops manning a busy traffic junction in the city, an old man and an old woman unable to cross the road and looking lost…….it was an amazing canvas displaying life’s everyday play, multiple stories existing side-by-side,  a continuously changing mural.

On the way back after a long and arduous travel, having returned unanswered calls and responding to unreplied emails, I was replaying the images of the day and I said to myself:

“A crow flies,

a dog barks,

a car goes past.

What a day!”

ordinary

The man in exile…

He is fast deteriorating. For last couple of days, the body has stopped asking for food. The will to live had subsided long back. Throughout night I experienced his mental disorientation, disordered speech and hallucinations. I don’t know which world is he in.

It’s 4 am. I am sitting next to his bed, watching his slow and uneven breath. There is a mild breeze coming in through the open window, passing over both of us. I find a piece of paper and write, 

“Belonging to anyone, anywhere,

yet alone and fragile,

who am I, where am I, why am I,

cries the man in exile.” 

maninexile

The ebb flow mischief?

As a visiting faculty, I teach the subject of Organization Behavior at one of India’s prestigious Business Schools. In their mid 20’s, my students are a bundle of amazing curiosity and talent, ever flowing with creative ideas and an urgency to act. However, at times, I find the same students devoid of energy, lacking motivation to think, feel or act. It’s a transitory phase, I feel,  only to bounce back to life.

What could be happening?

“An urge

then a surge,

ending in a purge.

The ebb flow mischief?”

ebbflowmischief

Who will stop by tomorrow?

“Old age can be beautiful yet scary. Looking back, I can appreciate the beauty of life by visiting my memories. However, looking forward, I see the world going past leaving me behind,”  said an old aunt of mine whom I recently visited after many years.

Her agony continues to haunt me even now, as if she is writing her present ordeal in these words,

Old widow,

sitting alone by the window,

broods in her sorrow,

“who will stop by tomorrow?”

 oldlady