Effective Communication

Deccan herald 30th January 2018

These days we find plenty of courses that guide people into communication skills. Aspects like correct usage of language, body language, tone, clarity and confidence are emphasized in these soft skill sessions. At the end of the day people are taught to communicate pleasantly and effectively to forge successful personal and professional relationships. Hence it is no wonder that educational institutions, governmental organisations and corporate bodies do not hesitate to invest a pretty penny on honing these skills of their new recruits at all levels.

A reading of the Ramayana reveals the universal significance and the cornerstone of communication skills has remained the same right from the good old times.

Hanuman was sent as the most hopeful candidate to search for Sita because Rama was impressed by the simian minister’s intelligence, sincerity and communication skills. The emissary of Rama discovered Sita in the Ashoka Vana of Lanka. He realized that he would traumatize the doe like Sita if he appeared in front of her without notice. Therefore he narrated the story of Rama in mellifluous verse to attract her attention. The act of Hanuman construes the importance of using introductory talk as the unshakeable basis of every conversation. The fact that Sita gave him her Choodamani – the hair accessory, which happened to be her only earthly possession and proof of her existence to be given to Rama, speaks in volumes about the success of Hanuman’s ability to communicate effectively.

When Maruthi returned to Rama with the good news, he does not indulge in formalities or flowery language. Instead, he very simply hands over the Choodamani of Sita with a brief phrase that said, “Sita has been found.” The magical phrase sent a surge of joy through the being of Rama and prepared him mentally to take in the details about the disheveled and depressed status of Sita and her resolve to hold on to her life for another month till she was freed from the clutches of Ravana. Hanuman used speech as a tool sometimes eloquently and at other times briefly. He just proved that there are no hard and fast rules about the length of the talk. He had the discernment to understand that content is king in any conversation. When truth, tenor, confidence, clarity, humility and simplicity adorn the content, communication becomes complete.

Determination vs. Obstinacy

Many a time people want to achieve their goal by hook or crook. Their very attitude is proof of the fact that they are not in a position to distinguish between determination and obstinacy.

When a person refuses to weigh the pros and cons of a situation and pursues his ambition blindly, he is not only likely to harm the people around him but will wreak havoc on himself both physically and mentally.

An episode from the Mahabharata unfolds the unfortunate repercussions of tenacity. Ashwaththama, the best friend of Duryodhana had promised his dying friend that he would ensure the annihilation of the Pandava family at all costs. He manipulated the death of the Pandavas and ended up killing the five sons of Draupadi. In hindsight, he realised that his mission would be completed if he managed to abort the foetus if princess Uttara who was carrying the posthumous child of Abhimanyu. That way he could effectively put a full stop on the continuance of the Pandava clan. Accordingly, he went to the princess and aimed a potent blade of Darbha grass at her womb. The petrified Uttara ran away in panic. When Ashwaththama chased the pregnant princess, he was intercepted by none other than Lord Krishna.

Krishna understood that the son of Drona was not in a position to distinguish the right from wrong, and there was simply no way he would tarry to listen to the Yadava king. It was then Krishna looked at the gem signifying human intelligence studded on the forehead of the Brahmin. He hastened to pluck it out and prevented the perpetration of foeticide. The mindless Ashwaththama could not focus on his evil undertaking. Thus, Krishna rescued the unborn baby. He ensured that the last scion of the Pandava family – Parikshit- the one who was tested arrived safely on planet earth.

When one examines Ashwaththama’s behaviour, it is not difficult to see that he was being faithful to his friend and true to his promise although his bosom pal was dead. All the same, it is apparent that he lost sight of human propriety in his zeal to redeem his promise. Had he realised that the means is as important as the end he could have spared himself of the ignominy?

Dealing with Embarassment


Some of us go through embarrassing situations in life for no particular fault of ours. It becomes increasingly difficult to take a stand, especially when the people involved are the next of kin, good friends or well-wishers. A story in the Bhagavatha Puranam speaks of one such predicament.

Naabhaaga, an erudite scholar, decided to find his own fortune. He was well versed in all areas of rites and rituals. He knew that he could earn a great deal of wealth if he offered his niche services. For starters, he went to the Yajna conducted by sage Angirasa as directed by his father Nabhaga. The sage was very happy with the arrival of the young man.

On the sixth day, ceremonies, which involved a lot of nitty-gritty, had been worrying the sage. Naabhaaga did the needful efficiently. The Yajna was completed successfully. Sage Angirasa was very happy and satisfied.

In a moment of gratitude and generosity, he offered every bit of his frugal possession as Dakshina to Naabhaaga. The latter accepted his fee thankfully and took leave of the sage. Naabhaaga was waylaid by Rudra. The angry god accused Naabhaaga of walking away with what rightfully belonged to him. The young man was confused. Nevertheless, he walked back to the site of the Yajna along with Rudra. The duo found sage Angirasa in conversation with Naabhaaga’s father. Rudra presented his case. Almost immediately, Angirasa and Nabhaga realised that they had goofed up. Strangely, both of them in their zeal had overlooked that the last portion of the Dakshina had to be lawfully offered to Rudra. They admitted their fault sheepishly, clarified the matter and apologised profusely. Both of them found it highly embarrassing to dictate the future course of action.

Naabhaaga and Rudra understood the nature of the faux pas. Naabhaaga decided to iron out the matter. He did not play the blame game nor did he cock a snook at Rudra for being angry with him for no reason. Instead, he handed over the entire amount to Rudra. Angirasa and Nabhaga were overwhelmed with the turn of events. Rudra was touched by the integrity of Naabhaaga and blessed him with unlimited prosperity.

If any of us happen to inadvertently get involved in a slip-up, we will do well to display a generous and forthright spirit like Naabhaaga.

Gift for teacher? Classroom Discipline


S Radha Prathi, Sep 5 2017, 0:08 IST

If teachers were asked what they would consider the best teacher’s day gift, the answer would be an unanimous chorus — classroom discipline!

Well, that happens to be the harsh truth. An average classroom in any school across urban India is almost always in a state of chaos. The teacher-student ratio is unwieldy in most. Under the circumstances, a conscientious teacher has to also double up as the bad cop, usher the students to step in mentally, not just physically, into the classroom. Healthy classroom practices like interactions, discussions and debates on the subject of study is often replaced with pontification, which has almost become a mandatory feature in the lives of teachers. Seldom can they do much else, because the law of the land forbids them from using the cane.

Most teaching staff are ashamed or afraid to rope in the help of colleagues, seniors or the head of the institutions because they do not want to show themselves to be weak or helpless. Besides, they do not want to jeopardise their chances of getting an increment by showing themselves to be lacking in class control skills. The students, for their part, ranging from primary school to the undergraduate levels seem to find it extremely difficult to sit still in the class and focus on what is being taught. Their attention span seems to be consistently declining year after year. They seem to have collectively traded the art of listening for the art of merely hearing that serves no purpose.

Such being the case, teachers have to often repeat themselves to reach out to everyone in the audience. In the process, a sense of repetition and redundancy sets in in the ones that got it the very first time. They become restless till the teacher takes the lesson forward but only after another round of disciplining. When this exercise becomes repetitive, it can get tiresome for both the students and the teacher. Precious classroom time is spent in shepherding students individually or in little groups into a state of silence before continuing with the lesson. Over a period of time, both parties get familiar with the pattern and play it out like clockwork to the point of frustration.

When teachers bare their hearts out on the subject, they are told categorically that “content is king” and the conduct of the teacher is the benchmark in a classroom. While that may be true, even experienced and passionate teachers who do know their subject and carry themselves with dignity are finding it difficult to handle disruptive behaviour. All the same, teachers agree that kids should have their fun and freedom as long as they do not constantly disrupt the classroom. They also vouch for the fact that the young are perfectly nice alone; it is only when they get together they become unmanageable.

It is time for us to unravel this conundrum. The restiveness stems from the environment the child comes from. The pressure to do well and realise the dreams of their parents has pinned them down. The gadgets they use and the amateurish exposure they get to various subjects on the internet make them feel that they know it all. The junk foods they consume, the sedentary lives they lead and the assorted pollutions they have to deal with have rendered them weak. Their preference to play with gadgets than with siblings or friends has made them strangers to empathy. The stress and strife of modern life is taking a toll on the children.

If we hope to salvage the future of our children, we must work on these issues on a war-footing. Remember, the family is the first school and the mother is the first teacher. Parents should make it their own imperative to spend quality time with children no matter what their age. Children who hail from sensible, ethical and loving homes will reflect those qualities.

Having well behaved students can prove to be a tremendous boost to a passionate teacher’s morale and her capacity to teach. Precious class hours can be channelised to sow the seeds of knowledge, nurture analytical thinking, and help children blossom into responsible, intelligent and considerate individuals. When teaching becomes a fulfilling and pleasant experience, a teacher can make a world of difference to the taught. When that happens, every day will be Teacher’s Day!

Self Respect Vs Ego


Most misunderstandings and rifts in personal and social relationships can be resolved if people start discerning the difference between having self respect and being egotistic. Oftentimes the two traits are confused for one another. While the former is commendable, the latter can prove to be detrimental. The Mahabharatha chronicles the tale of the foremost Guru Drona who rose to great heights because of his self respecting nature and fell from grace because of his bruised ego.

The immensely talented man of humble origin gained employment as the teacher of martial arts to the princes of Hastinapura. Though the royal household came forth to sponsor his living expenses and that of his family, he politely but firmly declined the offer. Drona had a son about the age of the Kuru princes. Yet never once did the self respecting teacher encourage his son to partake or enjoy the privileges of his highly placed peers. He lived and provided for his family within his means.

Once, his child Ashwaththama saw his regal friends drinking milk. The curious child longed to taste the white liquid. When he expressed his desire to his parents, he was given a tumbler of wheat flour mixed with water which the child drank happily thinking that it was milk. Drona could have had all the milk his son needed. Nevertheless the self respecting man would not accept any help from his employers before it was time to collect his rightful Gurudakshina.

It was around this time Drona’s wife Kripi reminded him of his childhood friend who had become the king of Panchala and requested his friend to seek his help. Drona was reluctant in the beginning, but went along all the same to meet his friend for old times’ sake.

Unfortunately for him, Drupada refused to take cognizance of him and behaved high-handedly. Drona was deeply hurt when his erstwhile chum offered him cows by way of charity to a Brahmin as against the token of friendship. Drona vowed to trounce Drupada’s arrogance.

One thing led to another and to make a long story short when the master’s self respect manifested itself as his ugly ego he failed miserably, to the point that his dead body was beheaded by Drupada’s son Dhrishtadyumna.

Unresolved Misery, Remorse Can Be Fatal


There are moments in life when nothing seems to be under our control. An incident from the Ramayana enumerates one such situation. When king Dasharatha fixed the coronation of his beloved son Rama, he hastened to his favourite queen’s chamber to break the news to her personally. Little did the king realise that Kaikeyi’s mind had been poisoned by her maid Manthara. He was shocked beyond words when he heard her demands to redeem the two boons given by him long ago. He could not digest the idea of exiling his dearest son to the forests for 14 years after fixing his coronation. He was also not very open to the idea of crowning Kaikayi’s son Bharatha as the king of Ayodhya. Repeated pleas to his dear wife got him nowhere and he swooned from time to time. The king was truly caught between the devil and the deep sea.

On the one hand, he could not even dream of going back on his promise because he was a man of his word. On the other hand, he could not bring himself to inflict an undeserving heinous punishment on his faultless son. He tried to cajole and coax his beautiful queen. When she refused to respond, he berated her and even threatened her about her impending widowhood. When she refused to budge from her obstinate demands, he wondered if he was at the receiving end of his own Karma. He imagined that he must have separated thousands of cows from their calves, mothers from their sons and wives from their husbands to have merited such a state. He tried to recollect all the possible evil deeds that may have been perpetrated by him to reap such misery. He succumbed to his end without putting up a fight as he was depressed beyond measure.

Natural disasters, death of a beloved person or separation from a loved one can leave us devastated. Any amount of solace cannot reverse the incident. When misery and remorse envelop us, it will be better for us to accept the situation and contemplate on the next step forward. On the other hand if we choose to wallow in our despondency we might tumble into a bottomless pit of sorrow which can push us to a state of depression or death.

Take a Minute to Smile and Say ThankYou


Stop before you rush off

Picture these episodes: The traditional tamboolam or the return gift is handed over to the guest when they leave a wedding. The material aspect of the conclusion is carried out, but how many hosts and guests actually tarry to have a moment’s conversation to express their feelings? The scenario is no different at parties and work lunches.

Considering the fact that so much of thought and effort has gone into the planning of these events, will it not be a graceful gesture to make eye contact and give a warm hug or a pat on the back before departing?

Always in a hurry

Passengers on a long air, road or rail journey end up getting fairly well-acquainted by the time they reach their destination. They break bread together and share space along with their opinions on random subjects. Sometimes they even confide their dreams and fears to the stranger who was hitherto unknown, but very few stop to exchange contact details or even say their goodbyes. Their haste to get off the vehicle and scoot off surpasses the courtesy that had been displayed thus long.

Children, who begin their day at the school in an organised assembly and form lines even when walking down the corridors during school hours, scamper out of school gates waving their hands in the air, not bidding adieu to anyone in particular.

How many of us wait for the credits to roll down completely before walking out of theatres? Don’t practitioners of yoga start rolling their mats even as the final instructions are being given by the coach?

One can count the number of students and patients who go back to thank their mentors and doctors who helped them out in the hour of need after their need is fulfilled.

Focus on endings as well

All these instances point out to one factor. It shows our sheer lack of knack in tying up loose ends. We Indians attach a lot of importance to beginnings. We identify auspicious days, hours and even moments to begin our novel enterprises. It is not just the weddings, functions, worship and festivities.

Most of us are very conscious about making a good beginning even for our regular day-to-day activities like travelling, filling forms, applying for jobs or examinations, going for a medical check-up, buying jewellery or furniture among other things.

A lot of effort goes into planning and executing our projects, be it a simple menu of home-cooked food, or organising a birthday party, presenting a paper at a seminar or attending a wedding.

How many times have we not stood patiently in queues to get what we want, sat in the corridors of hospitals, educational institutions and government offices to meet the person concerned to sort out our issues?

Then there are times when we wait for hours on the end to board a flight, wait for a rock concert to begin or peer through a telescope to see a rare alignment of planets. These instances highlight the fact that we are ready to give our best shot backed by patience, determination and rare endurance.

We genuinely believe that well begun is half done, therefore all the fuss about commencing activities with a prayer on our lips or a positive frame of mind is deemed warranted.
Nevertheless what fazes a third party onlooker is that we in the sub-continent fail in the art of giving a decent conclusion to our activities.

Be courteous

Of course, each one of us may have a valid excuse for doing what we do, the way we do it. Though there can be umpteen number of reasons to wind up unceremoniously, it is definitely not the done thing.

Is it really asking for too much when a person is required to spend a moment expressing his or her heartfelt thanks when he or she is the receiver? Does it hurt to hang on for a moment and smile or nod to show that we have arrived at the finish line of the meeting?
Will we not appreciate an attitude of gratitude or at least acknowledgement when we have worked hard on a venture?

A kind word goes a long way

The human psyche is very sensitive. Even the social media is aware of this dimension of human psychology. Perhaps that is the reason they have come up with variations of ‘like’ buttons which help us respond favourably and easily.

Even the bitterest soul will warm up towards a person who recognises his or hercontribution. Such being the case, a little appreciation or constructive criticism can go a long way in inspiring better endeavours. One can land fresh projects and customers can weave new relationships, navigate learning curves or very simply experience the satisfaction of a job well done when matters are given a fine and a conscious finish.

Those of us who have embraced the habit of drawing a shoddy closure to the various things must understand that a warm and courteous conclusion is actually a precursor to a new beginning.