Design of Business

Business, Culture & Entrepreneurship

Tag: friendship

Seize the day – demonstrate your love!

One of the joys of traveling back to India in the summer is eating great food catching up with friends (and eating great food)! Last summer had its share of good times, but was also filled with its share of bad news – my cousin and namesake suddenly passed from a heart attack, a friend’s marriage fell apart and two friends, in their mid-fifties were diagnosed with cancer. While all this had everyone around me asking about my own health and how well I was taking care of it, I found myself both praying for my friends and pondering about purpose.

S Badrinarayanan

One of those two friends was Badri, who has been a mentor and friend to my father, my wife and me. Badri had a near inexhaustible share of stories to tell, in his own unique way, often self-deprecatory and delivered with a mischievous smile. A great devotee in the Sri Vaishnava tradition and an ardent reader of the Divyaprabhandam, one of his favorite vignettes was about the evanescence of self-awareness. Whenever we spoke of entrepreneurship or personal relationships, of the mistakes we’ve made and lessons we’ve learned, I invariably ended up asking why didn’t that lesson stick. It’s like mashana vairagyam—dispassion that arises in the crematorium—that doesn’t last, and tell this tale. I paraphrase.

When there’s a death in the family, even as we take the body to the crematorium we feel sad, listless and wondering about the meaninglessness of it all. When we pour out the pot of hot coals on the body and it’s set ablaze, we think ‘What is life all about? It is ephemeral!’ We realize all that seemed real and important until then—ego, money, success—is actually meaningless. ‘Why did I even care about those things? My life is now irrevocably changed and I’ll never be the same again.’

Of course soon as we return home, my wife brings me coffee. I take a sip. ‘Hey! Why is the coffee so cold?’ I yell at my wife. Alas all that self-reflection and insights I’d drawn by the funeral pyre, didn’t last for long and didn’t survive first contact with the mundane—a cup of coffee that wasn’t hot enough!”

Badri would invariably laugh as he narrated this story always in first person. Through last year, as he underwent chemo and struggled with its aftereffects, he stayed in good spirits. With the arrival of his first grandchild—for which he he’d traveled overseas, he appeared radiant in the photos he shared.

Soon as I arrived in India in late May, I called to visit him. He was in the hospital, resting and recovering from a cough. His wife and I spoke agreeing that we’d visit him when he was feeling better maybe in a few days. But on 4th June, he passed suddenly. As family and friends gathered on the 13th day of his passing, they shared stories of what he’d meant to them and I found myself grief stricken and unable to speak.

Today as I write this, I recall Badri’s stories and the wonderful, loving and demonstrative person he was and hope I can keep his love and insights a little longer than the fella in his tale!

Visualization and other lessons from a friend

“He’s my colleague’s son-in-law. You should connect with him, soon as you get to Bangalore.”

I don’t know about you, but as a young man, I usually did not jump on friend recommendations that my father-in-law made. So it was nearly a year after we’d moved to Bangalore that I finally connected with Ramani. And boy was I glad I did – my life – nay our lives – my wife, kids and I would have never been the same if we hadn’t met Ramani and his family. Over the years Ramani has been many things – first a friend, a walking and yoga partner, a teacher, student, at times a project for me and often a sounding board.

Sense of humor Chitra and I can’t help but smile anytime we talk of Ramani. Few people I’ve met is so ready with a smile and laugh as Ramani is. Despite many business challenges he might be facing as an entrepreneur, Ramani is always not just ready to listen but to laugh with us. And even better often laugh at himself. All to often, he’s exactly what the doctor ordered. There are times I suspect I call him just to hear him laugh – it’s a tonic. Sure accounts receivable may be hell, customers may be complaining and cash flow may be a problem, but keeping your sense of humor helps you not only cope with all this but to be there for others.

Community Just after we first met, Ramani invited the family and me to an event organized by a non-profit, Premaanjali Educational Trust (PET Forum) he had co-founded. Even by Indian standards of extended families and communities, the PET forum was an amazing group – mostly first generation entrepreneurs who’d gotten together to make a difference in the community even as they were just getting their businesses rolling. What made this different for me, was the degree to which the families of the entrepreneurs – particularly the kids – were engaged with the cause. The manner in which we were welcomed into the group as Ramani’s friends was overwhelming. Active to this day, Ramani has lived the truth that giving back to community is something you do NOW in the midst of our messy lives. It’s not just something you plan to do one of these days or when you retire.

Power of visualisation To say Ramani is an optimist – then again which entrepreneur isn’t – doesn’t describe him adequately. He’s been an active practitioner (and proponent) of the power of visualisation. When he first spoke of it to me, I’m sure I was skeptical, yet his passion and belief moved me to give it a shot. That and several crisis in my business found me ready to try nearly anything. To this day I’m glad that I listened to him and use this technique to both prepare myself as well as work towards my goals.

Thank you Ramani, for being such a wonderful listener, friend and teacher. I’m truly grateful that you are in our lives and all the difference that you’ve made.


You can read all the posts in my 30 days of gratitude series here.

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 |

Get your hands dirty and other lessons from a friend

You might want to keep your hands in your pockets.

I think I’ve always gesticulated with my hands and I never realized it but I also am a toucher. I touch people when I talk to them. I’d been in grad school for about two months and met Marcel, a fellow grad student in the same department, but working for a different professor. I can’t recall how we struck up a friendship, we couldn’t have been more different. Marcel was this serious Dutch guy with a Masters studying computational Material Science. I had been voted – most likely to be hurt in a political dustup and not graduate – while at BHU.

A couple of months after we’d  become friends, Marcel took me aside and told me, “ Western men don’t usually like to be touched by other men!” I didn’t realize that I had been not just waving my hands but clasping hands or otherwise touching the guys I was talking to. Coming from India, where it’s common to see two guys holding hands or hands across each other’s shoulders, the concept of personal space, was a little alien to me.  I think I was aghast, when Marcel recommended using my pockets to hold my hands. Well that was only the first of many lessons I was to learn from Marcel over the four years we were in grad school together.

Walk in the wilderness Marcel introduced me to hiking. In fact once we even took my unsuspecting mom on a gruelling 5 mile hike in Briones National Park in Northern California. I’ll never forget the day, he let a lizard that was sunning itself on a trail, crawl on to his hand to admire it. We spent days camping in the rain on Pt. Reyes National Park. Having lived all my life in cities and having grown up in India, I’d lost the connect to nature and land – that I saw my grandparents have in rural India and Marcel helped me rediscover in America. Both of our research work, meant hours cooped up in a basement, often in a dark room with a microscope or photo chemicals in my case or in an attic warren for him. So getting out there in nature, spending time walking or even just lying in a tent in pouring rain, taught me to both take a break and reconnect with nature as well as return invigorated to the work at hand. Through out my subsequent startups, most of my 1:1s I’ve had walking in a park in Bangalore and in an open school playground. Stay connected to nature, appreciate and engage with the outdoors is a lesson that I’ve learned from Marcel.

Don’t let little or big things stop you Many months after I met Marcel is when I learned that he did not hear so good in one of his ears. Of course that explained why he prefered to always walk one side when we hiked or otherwise did things together. This ear went from bad to worse till he had to have surgery many years later to try to fix his hearing in addition to using electronic aids. Yet many of our most fun times together was when he played the piano, which he did a great job of – whether for Christmas carolling or at a dinner party. Conferences meant giving talks, attending more and networking. From Marcel’s music or enjoyment of the piano, you could never tell that he was hampered in any way – so he did not let little or in this instance big things around his hearing from doing the things he loved or being able to do his professional roles. So on days when I’m throwing a snit for not getting the right sort of pencil or getting good copy writers I have to remind myself of what I learned – don’t let the little or big things stop me from doing what needed to or wanted to get done.

Get your hands dirty For a guy who’s research involving electronically computing phase diagrams from first principles, Marcel could fix cars like a mechanic. He bought a fixer-upper in Richmond-Berkeley border and really fixed it up – doing carpentry, plumbing and a great deal of gardening. And he could cook up a pretty good storm. Before meeting him, I’d have had a hard time fixing anything beyond checking if the darn thing was plugged in. By no means am I any good at plumbing, electrical work, dry walling or any of the other manly contractor jobs – but I’ve gotten to be darn good cook (even if I say so myself), a semi-decent do it yourself (DIY-er) and odd jobs guy. More importantly I got to appreciate the value of being able to do such work and the people who are good at it. Many years later in my first startup this lesson got reinforced, when we build several teams of sharp kids, but few of whom had actually gotten their hands dirty, building stuff. Marcel was a maker before the Maker movement. I’d like to think i get my hands more dirty these days, and the credit for that goes to Marcel.

Thank you Marcel, for being such a wonderful friend. I don’t think I’d have completed Engineering Mathematics or graduated but for your help and for all the life lessons you’ve taught me. I’m grateful to have you in my life.


This is the sixth entry in my 30 days of Gratitude series. 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 |

© 2019 Design of Business

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑