Musings for a responsible society

Amidst the dark and grey shades increasingly engulfing, invading and piercing deeper and deeper, let me try to enjoy the little smiles, genuine greens, and the gentle breeze. Oh! Creator! If you don't exist, my vain!
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MARCHing through LIFE: Dare it!

Here is an article on what March is for me and for a few others! Also about the journey from hating March to daring March!!

Why I hate March?

I hate March because it is a month of pay-offs. How much ever I try to clear my dues during the other months, still my table gets piled up with demands. March is really a taxing month. I need to pay my vehicle tax, property tax, income tax self assessment dues, profession tax and many such taxes. I need to pay my vehicle Insurance premium, life insurance premium and medical insurance premium. The March heat triggers electricity meters to supersonic pace.

I hate March, because of examinations. It is testing time for kids of all age groups. One would get confused seeing the syllabus of these kids. One would seriously think. Why the hell are these topics part of their curriculum? What did we gain by studying this stuff in our school days? What did we lose by not studying some of this stuff in our school days? The March-suffering is not limited to the examinations of one’s owns kids, but of many others! There will be a spate of leave applications from your subordinates who are also worried parents. Files will stay motionless in many desks

I hate March because it is the time to queue up before the schools. It is also a time for admissions and long waits outside the rooms of the Principals. (See my article ‘The ordeal called school admissions’)

I hate March because of the continuous receipt of marketing calls from many executives. I feel really sad after giving an impolite response to those nice youngsters who call at odd hours due to the pressure for targets!

I hate March because my banker gives me a call in March to say that I am no longer a priority customer. He says I failed to maintain a ‘privileged minimum balance’

I hate March because I am forced to plan the summer vacation. It is always very difficult to arrive at a consensus! And where is the time to think! By the time we decide, tickets get over!!

I hate March from my school days! It was in March that our dear creator took away my dad from me! And that was Good Friday Eve.

March thus reminds me of Crucifixion. But I wait optimistically with the hope of resurrection in April!

When I wrote this, my readers also had a lot to say about March!

A friend wrote to me:

 “There is no month more beautiful than March - winter fading into spring and renewal all around -tall trees covered in tender green shoots - new admissions -new beginnings -its all a question of the lens u view life with!”

Sarah supported me narrating her March woes:

“I hate March too :) In fact I hate Jan, Feb, March, April, May and July... (too many months to hate!) Jan - We need to run around for investment proof submission Feb - Medical bills submission March - same as above :) April, May - Indian Summer :( July - too many bdays hence lot of expenditure and IT returns filing”

Ciss wrote from Michigan:

“Hi Sibi! I understand your dislike of March, but for me it means so much here. It often is the first time we see a full blue sky that is a hint of spring yet yet to come.”

Animesh had this to say:

“Nice one and interesting Sibi. Loved the way you mixed humor with the reality. In fact, we all hate March for reasons so obvious:) Just like that!”

My brother-in-law had something positive to say about March. He sent me a mail:

 “March starts with an inspiration to move forward..go ahead....MARCH FORTH.... March is also a symbol of liberation of Women .. International Year of Women. I enjoyed summer holidays because of March...experiencing relaxation after hectic schedule.... The efforts in March gives me much pleasure and relaxation in April ... March reminds us to keep our goals in life... March reminds me of setting goals in my work. It helps me to assess my strengths and capacity to manage multitasks. By making all the payments and dues March helps me relax for the rest 11 months. Pain in March helps children to go to the next level in the school…a sense of achievement.....”

But my sister Mini became a bit emotional! She wrote:

 “Hi Sibichen Great article. I was bit emotional and tearful when I read the last but one para”

What is the view of a busy Chartered Accountant? Hear Anil:

“Yes, March is also an accountant’s nightmare. Closing the F.Y accounts, planning taxable income, expect an uninformed auditor’s visit, prepare for board meetings, work out bonuses payable etc. In fact with so many things to do in March, we better start liking it (do we have a choice??!!!)”

But, a busy working woman shouldering a senior post had something positive to say. Pushpa wrote to me:

“Ha, ha. You could try the opposite emotion to experience a change in outlook. March is when the plant and animal kingdoms begin to renew themselves. Open your eyes to see the wonders of God, even with all your deadlines and targets. The glorious new buds, the two-toned greens, the frisky squirrels, the chirpy sparrows, the beautiful parrots, the ever-bathing mynas, the bulbuls, the friendly pigeons... Can’t you see the joy of living which they embody and share with all who notice them? Ooooh. how wonderful is March, for it renew my spirits, deadened by winter blues, which culminates in the Resurrection, when I become wholly new in body, in mind, in spirit.”

Sindhu, the friend wrote:

“Till next March be happy that this March is past. For next March, learn some marching so that you can march through March with courage. I wonder now, if the origin of the word march is this villian March??? But I also believe that pressure of March is necessary to bring forth the blooms of April. I love April. It's just a pure miracle. God knows from where all things come to life!!!”

Sri Ram Ayyangar reminded me that March is also the month when maximum cricket matches take place! So much fun!

A friend warned me strongly:

 “Friend, never say that you hate something or somebody. You can’t hate! I just want to remind you one thing. One has to die, to resurrect. Without a killing dry March, there is no blooming Resurrection in April. March is the best preparation for Easter and without a March, April is never so meaningful. It is amazing to see how good a father you are, without really knowing a father’s role in your life. What I feel is, you became the Father Figure who you lost early in your life.”

Meenakhi Malhotra had this comment:

“My hubby is too virgo. But on the contrary, I feel March is the best time for virgos, because this is the time when a virgo’s  organizing skills and  work management skills get their due recognition and applaud. My hubby, a charted accountant, always prepares for March in advance, all bills and taxes paid, dues cleared, yes! His office hours do take a longer route because of all the closing business. And for me March just breezes past, leaving me enjoying spring, because owing to a CA husband, I do not have to worry about finances and returns :D!

Indu Chibber says:

“Yes,why wait till the last moment ? Apart from the professional hassles March is a beautiful month. You know why?”

The above comments and feedback prompted me to have a re-look at March!

Why I started loving March?

When I look back, I realize that March went off pretty cool!
All Virgos, people say, are hurry worry warts

As I face another March, some of my friends enquired: ‘How is this March treating you?’
I said, it is wonderful!

I am saying this not because this March is not without its attendant difficulties. But my own introspection and the responses from many readers and friends have taught me one very important lesson:

The need to understand that the problems we face in our daily lives are very trivial when compared to the countless blessings that we have!

Life can be compared to a basket of fresh fruits and vegetables - With various shades, shapes, flavors, and taste. Some are bitter, some are too sweet. The bitter ones would ultimately prove to rejuvenate us. Some may look colourful from outside, but could be stale within. If we don’t use the bounty on time, worms would slowly settle within and we would not be able to consume. There could be thorns, which we need to remove carefully. There may be a very tough outer covering that would refuse to get peeled off. But patience, perseverance and timely response would make us relish the platter that life brings, in the most satisfying way.

Why should we dare March?

I consider March as a symbol of life’s challenges. How do we face those challenges in our life? We tend to get irritated over the inevitable without knowing the futility of such a reaction. When wise and patient response is warranted for tackling a critical situation, we just do the contrary. Our emotions overtake our intellect and we become victims of anger, antagonism and ill-will resulting unpleasant reactions from others. At the end, we would still be unhappy.

I think I have improved from the stage of emotional immaturity and my cognitive component has overtaken my affective component. So I have reached the stage where I feel like taking challenges head on. 

Obstacles are like wild animals. They are cowards but they will bluff you if they can. If they see you are afraid of them... they are liable to spring upon you; but if you look at them squarely in the eye, they will slink out of sight. (Orison Swett Marden)                                                                                                      

The challenges can be better managed through prioritization. Once we start focusing on something that deserves our best attention and start solving the puzzles associated with that, we would tend to observe that others start disappearing or becoming less challenging. A simple strategy of not trying to tackle all of them simultaneously could help us to channel all our efforts only to the important tasks. Indeed, experience counts a lot in such situations.

Best illustration for this can be seen in target management, as this is an area that worries many people in the month of March. Various parameters are set for achievement in the early part of the year. However we tend to relax much more than required in the first half of the year. We wake up all of a sudden when we realize or made to realize that the year is going to be over. Even at that crucial stage, the usual tendency is to work to meet each of these parameters at the same time with equal intensity. One requires a little bit of strategizing to get rid of the year end troubles.

An analysis of the past performances, the comparative contribution of each of those parameters to overall growth, the nature of perceptions of the growth by the evaluators, and the resultant reactions and responses can give you enough tips on what to and what not to focus. Many times, we grope in the dark with so much confusion without knowing what we should focus. This adds to our tension, as we try to deal with all the challenges simultaneously by diffusing all our energy and resources to variety of areas, without knowing which parameter needs more attention. When some of the areas are to be left unnoticed and ignored, some others may require only a superficial tinkering.

The above is true in the case of challenges faced in the personal front also. We simply can’t meet all those demands that being thrown to us in the month of March. Accumulation is mainly due to our own tendency to procrastinate, partly because of our laziness. We can’t blame March. It does not spring up any surprises on you. Why should one wait till the deadline to attend to the challenges?

Moral of the story: March never brings problems to you. Rather, you bring problems to March.

Views are personal                                 © Sibichen K Mathew
Sibi5555 (gmail)


How running has made Hema super successful? It’s never late for you too!!

200mts to the finish line of IDBI FLI Spice Coast Marathon 2017, at Kochi.

HEMA MENON, 47 years young, is a mother of two. She is heading one of the largest development centers of the IT Services MNC, UST Global at Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. Yes, she is just like any other working woman who is saddled with multiple roles and responsibilities. But what made her ‘extraordinary’ is her run on the paths less travelled – literally.

She did her MS in Software Engineering and the MBA – both after marriage -  while working full time. And she never compromised her duties as a wife and a mother!

It is said that forty is the new thirty! We can say ‘Twenty’, when we talk about Hema. In her mid-forties, she discovered a new activity with running, especially long distance running and that has changed her life altogether.

Some of you may be thinking that if one has started running marathons when she was in her forties, she might have been an athlete or fitness freak since many decades. Hema proved us wrong!  She says, ‘I was never interested in any sports. I don't even recollect participating in even a lemon and spoon race, while at school’.

Then what made her jump into running at this age? Let us hear from her:

“My daughter challenged me to go out for a walk one day, and I started with a walk each morning.  The shift from walking to running came much later, and the influence from multiple sources too.

Diabetes runs in the family of my husband and he too became a diabetic at a young age. His brother Ramesh, started running as a means to run away from diabetes, and he was successful not just in keeping diabetes away, but also in becoming one of the fast marathoners in the country.  He successfully influenced his wife Seema, along with many other cousins too, into running. The one person who he could not influence, was Subhash, his brother and my husband.  I was inspired by Seema, Ramesh and the Soles of Cochin Runners, and realized that I could influence Subhash too with my running. That’s where it all started.”

All of us, at least on days following the day we get our blood reports or the days after new year or after binging on delicacies on special occasions, join a Gym, go for long walks and sometimes get hugely motivated to even jog a few meters as well! But, why should we participate in a race or marathon?

Let us hear from Hema about her maiden experience in participating in a race.

I participated in my first race, at the age of 44, a 7km run at Kochi International Half Marathon in December 2013. It was more of a walkathon for me as I was not used to race. My first attempt at a Marathon was on May 3rd, 2014, at Columbus, Ohio, USA.  We (husband, daughter and me) had gone there on vacation, to visit our son, who had just joined college at the time. There was a half marathon happening there at the time and I signed up the entire family for the race. I did a half marathon (21km), my husband (10km) and both kids (5km). That was the perfect start for my long distance running and I treasure the experience the most.

Since 2014, in the past almost 3 years, I have successfully completed 12 half marathons (21.1km), 14 full marathons(42.095km)  and 4 ultra marathons (50km, 75km, 110km & 71km)

How many of us are motivated to take a walk around our house or to do some simple exercise at home, though we keep hearing enough about how important they are! It is amazing to see a working woman running an extra mile for good health!

Let’s ask her, how did this new found passion help her in life?

Running has helped me physically and mentally. Physically it has helped me to be more active and also in reducing my weight. But more importantly, running has helped me to reduce stress and increase confidence.   Training and Running marathons and ultra-marathons have helped me develop mental strength and become more patient, which helps me to maintain cool, even at times of frustration and adversity. Patience is a virtue that I seemed to have developed through my running. Running has also taken me to places that I haven’t been before, introduced me to many people whom I never knew before and made me see things that I have never seen before.  

Hema receiving the award after 75km Ultra Run at Javadhu Ultra, 2016.
She was one of the two women runners who finished the race

It is said that behind every successful man, there is a woman. It is also a fact in our society that behind every successful woman there is only herself! Many times, woman is not allowed to pursue her passion because of the constant reminders by everyone around her that everything she does outside her home would be detrimental to the family’s well being!!

What support you got from your family when you pursued your educational and career goals after marriage and while you raced?

My family is very supportive of this passion. My husband and kids are my biggest supporters and none of this could have happened without their support. There were races that I signed up, especially ultra-marathons for which I was unsure about my ability to finish. My children were positive that I could do it.  When the children were around at home, my husband used to stay back, so that I can make my weekend trips for running races at different parts of the country. My mother in law too is happy about our running.  Of course, there is always some folks in the family and friend circle, who would constantly say that I have lost weight and I should run less. :)

Could Hema influence her husband too??
  I still fondly remember the moment I touched the finish line in my first full marathon - Spice Coast Marathon -  in 2014. As I went past the finish line, collected the beautiful medal, and looked up, I saw my husband standing there with a half marathon, his first half marathon, medal around his neck. Seeing that made me so happy, that I forgot the joy of my first marathon.

Hema was a podium finisher in her age category in many races. She got second position in Coimbatore Half Marathon, first position in Spice Coast Marathon, and  Goa River Marathon. This year she got the second position in Female Veteran Category at The Wipro Chennai Marathon. She successfully finished the ultra-marathons like Malnad Ultra (110km), Javadhu Ultra (75km), Munnar Ultra (71km) and Chennai Trail Marathon (50km) within the cutoff times. 

The joy of running. Hema enjoying the trail run of 110 km at The Malnad Ultra. 

Not only at home and on the ground, she also makes a mark at her job too. She is responsible to keep a track of all operations of the Center, along with ensuring growth and branding of the organization at the Center.  She had also shouldered additional responsibility of being the delivery manager accountable for successful delivery of software projects for some of the fortune 500 companies.

The young girls of today are good at multi-tasking. But many of them are not interested in outdoor activities. What is your advice to them?

You get only one life to live. Live it to the fullest, and that would mean, living healthy and living long without being dependent on others. If you take care of your health, you are guaranteed to live a fulfilling life. So why waste it by not being active? My advice to all is to challenge yourself. Get out of your comfort zone, try out something new. Only then will you discover what strengths (or lack of it) you possess. Unless you challenge yourself to do something that you never knew you could, life could be pretty boring.

 Are the new generation too much into social media?

I think the new generation is getting smarter. They seem to adopt and discard the many tools that come across. They are social media savvy, and are much faster in adopting them. If they find it to be not interesting, they will choose to move on to the next thing that gets their attention. They are on Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Snapchat and more and they seem to be using some of these channels to their advantage. There is also another set of newgens who are unaware or ignorant of the risks associated with privacy and seem to be victims of these too. Every generation seems to be smarter than the previous ones, when it comes to adoption of technology.

Let me shoot a few more questions to her about growing up in a highly paradoxical Kerala - a highly literate society but marred by gender specific crimes and prejudices.
What are your views on society's changing gender perceptions?

Even though there has been improvement from earlier times, we are not fully there yet in having a society which treats men and women equally. Women still need to fight for her rights, be it for a visit to Sabarimala or for trekking to Agastyarkoodam.  We still have a long way to go to make it easy for women.

Don't you think Kerala society has a lot of double standards?

Probably. But I guess it is not limited to Kerala only.

Recently a popular film actor was attacked and abused in the car while she was on her way back from work.   Don’t you think there are more abuses against women in Kerala than in other states. And also there are several incidents of moral policing. Women feel uncomfortable travelling outside once it is dark.  What do you say about this?

Abuses against women have not reduced even with increased focus brought out by so many incidents happening in our country and in my state. We get to hear about some of the incidents, but I believe there are a lot more that goes unheard of. The abuses against women are not limited to the young crowd alone, but extends to small children and elder women too. This pretty much indicates what the problem is with our society. More and more women are coming forward to report the struggles that they face, which is a good sign.

In spite of all her outdoor passions, Hema enjoys being at home, with her family, doing nothing but just taking it easy.  At the end I asked her what she thinks about herself and what is her life’s message.

Hema says that her  story is not about the dream come true for a passionate athlete or a super successful woman. She only represents any woman who plays the multiple roles - a mother, a wife, a daughter, a career woman, and who tries to integrate work and life and get the best out of both. It is also about being there for the family and yet, chasing ones’ own interests and passion. She hopes that her story will inspire many women to try out new things, explore their own dreams, and become more healthy and active.

Yes, if at this age, with no previous athletic experience, Hema can run marathons and ultra-marathons, and more importantly live to talk about it, anyone can!

Hema, with the group, Soles of Cochin, after the recent TCS Fit4life 10k race

Thanks Hema for being an inspiration to all!
                                                  © Sibichen K Mathew

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