Sunday, September 20, 2009

MHK September 2009


I had organized a MHK on the eve of moving out of my current residence. Home, as near as it is to me, is quite far for most people who confirmed their participation - yet, they turned up in good numbers*. The event itself was a fantastic time spend for all those who chose to come.


The main objective of this MHK was to arrange for a place where people would not be constrained by time or resources while trying to get together and spend time at leisure. I had arranged for lunch, snacks and beverages. There was also a provision to watch a "cult" movie if everyone attending were inclined to.


The MHK was to start by 11:00 AM, but, keeping with the tradition** we started around 12:15 PM. However, once the MHK started, the tempo of the meeting picked up beyond expectations. There were more people and a whole lot more fun than an average MHK***. People played board games and group games both pre and post lunch. There was also a captivating session on Biking through the Himalayas by one of the members. It was about 8:00 PM when the meeting ended.


Time lines:

19th September 2009, Saturday

  • 12:00 PM to 2:00PM - Introductions followed by "Scotland yard" and "Cluedo"
  • 2:00 PM to 3:00 PM - Lunch and chatter
  • 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM - Some chatter but mostly "Mafia"
  • 6:00 PM to 7:30 PM - A bike journey through Leh/Ladakh/Jammu - by Gururaj Krishnamurthy
  • 7:30 PM to 8:00 PM - A short round of Pictionary with some hot payasam followed by goodbyes


Mensans: 9 (in order of appearance to MHK)

  • Gururaj, Divakaran, Sugandhi, Tharunya, Sanat, Ananth,Kiran, Rathi, Ujwal

Guests: 4 (in order of appearance to MHK)

  • Rana, Giridhar, Roopa, Manasvi

Hosts: 2

  • Ravi & his mom (Savitha Manjunath)


  • Sanat travelled from Kerala straight to the MHK and kept all of us engaged by masterfully moderating "Mafia"
  • Rathi travelled from Hyderabad straight to the MHK; she had some special sweet from Hyderabad for all who took trouble to attend the MHK
  • My mom Savitha, worked tirelessly to arrange for Lunch and Snacks - all by herself. Roopa helped her with serving
  • Around 6:30 PM, the skies opened up and there was a very heavy , incessant downpour. This caused some inconveniences to attendees as they were getting ready to head back home



A big thank you to all of you who attended this MHK. It was a terrific change for us at home. The atmosphere and fun we had during the MHK will be truly memorable.


* a total of 13 guests made it to the event

** people rarely turn up on time for MHKs, but then, you are not expected to...

*** an average MHK starts around 5:00 in the evening and lasts for only a couple of hours with anywhere between 3 to 8 people in attendance

Monday, June 16, 2008

Views from the Hancock

Photos from the Observatory in the John Hancock Building, Chicago

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Mensa May MHK: Kudremukh

Mensa May MHK trip to Kudremukh. Trip report by Rathi, photographs by Roshin. Cross-posting from A World in a Grain of Sand.


Bangalore - Tumkur Road - Nelamangala - Kunigal - Channaraipatna - Hassan - Belur - Chikmaglur - Balehunnur - Kalasa - Kudremukh

Kudremukh - Kalasa - Kottigehara - Mudigere - Belur - Hassan - Channaraipatna - Kunigal - Nelamangala - Bangalore

Except for the stretch from Kalasa to Kottigehara, roads quality varied from moderately good to excellent. The road from Belur to Hassan requires special mention, one can easily drive at 100+ kmph on this road.

Trip Report

Kudremukh is a quintessential picturesque valley lying in the bough of the Western Ghats. Surrounded by peaks and dense jungle is this quaint little town with a population, numbering a few thousands. Previously an iron ore mining reserve, it is now purely a naturist's delight! The mining operations came to a halt after the Supreme court passed a judgment to shut down the factory in 2005. The town was inhabited only by the employees of Kudremukh Iron Ore Company Limited, now with the closure it is close to becoming a ghost town.

It was midnight on the 23rd of May, 2008 when we 7 Mensans and 3 guests started off from Cunningham Road, in two cars, with Kudremukh as the destination in mind but no route chalked out. We thought we will take it as the road curves. After brief stops at Nelamangala, Kunigal and Chanraipatna, we were thrilled to get on to the Hassan - Belur road. At Belur, we mulled over the map to take a decision on our next move. Well, it was Chikmaglur that finally won and we headed off in that direction. Fortunately for us the roads till that point were excellent. At Chikmaglur, around 5 AM, we were happy to find quite a few people strolling around. With some assistance we got on to the road that headed to Balehunnur.

Dawn breaking over the mountains

From Balehunnur to Kalasa, we drove through the ghats, with the sun rising just behind the mountains. The sky with a hue of indigo was simply breathtaking. Irresistible as the scenery got, we stopped randomly to capture nature in its naked form either through the eye or through the camera. Almost close to Kalasa, we crossed this bridge with huge bamboo trees on either side of the river, Tunga, caressing the water. It was a mini Amazon of sorts! At this point a few of them had rumbling tummies and munched on idlis while the rest headed off to "Sahyadri Bhavan", our hotel in Kudremukh.

Misty river

It was 8:30 when we finally reached the hotel. A quick breakfast and a long freshening up later we were all set to explore some of the unknown terrain. Our local guide, Srikanth, took us to Samse, the closest village to Kudremukh (his hometown). After offering us some delicious home grown bananas and a refreshing drink, the 11 of us, yes the whole lot of us got into one jeep with the driver! Totally unprepared were we, to experience the rickety ride that took us through tea estates, up a hill through the jungle to finally stop a few hundred meters from the summit of a hillock. We got off and started to trek to reach a height from where we could see the valley extend till the eye could see.

View of the valley

Exhilarated and famished, we gobbled our packed lunches in the shade of a tree, surrounded by a herd of cows that had come to graze. The cowherd suggested we try and climb another peak, apparently from where the view was even more stunning. Getting adventurous, we started the climb and about 25 minutes later reached the point from where it felt, we will never get enough of this! Srikanth constantly reminded us that we have been really fortunate to view this as the skies were unimaginably clear that day after a thunderous downpour the previous day.

Content and rejuvenated, we headed down, and traced our path back to Samse, just in time to be saved from the rains which could have severely curtailed the movement of the jeep in the slushy muddy trail. It was at Samse that quite a few discovered they had brought along leeches on their legs! With a dash of salt the leeches were gotten rid off and a hot cup of coffee was welcomed by all. Heading back to the hotel, we thought of spending the rest of the day, generally doing nothing much.

The tree lined avenue of Kudremukh campus

Sunday was a late morning for most of us. Few of us went about discovering the town on our own and then finally packed to leave by around 12. A second round of breakfast was devoured at a nondescript restaurant with the TV playing out the Karnataka election results in the background. Thereafter, it took us almost 30 minutes pouring over a detailed map of Karnataka to decide that we should go back the way we came! So that meant the two cars would sync up at Chikamglur.

The three "guests" on the trip

But as luck would have it, both the cars lost the track and ended up heading in two different directions. We reached Kottigehara from Kalasa (bad roads) while the other car somehow managed to land in Balehunnur. It was then decided to meet in Hassan at the Kamath. Then again, we were one and a half hours apart, and so after having a bite at Kamath, we moved on to Bangalore. Reached Bangalore at 9:30 PM, ate dinner at Casa del Sol and reached home by 11:30 PM. The second group reached Bangalore at 1 AM after spending some quality "pool-side" time at the Taj, Chikmaglur.

We couldn't have asked for a more favorable weather, what with a few showers and the whole place being green and teeming with life.


All photographs shot with Canon EOS 400D with one of the following lenses:

Canon EF 50mm F1.8
Canon EF-S 17-85 mm F4 - 5.6 IS USM
Tamron 28 - 200 mm F3.8 - 5.6 XR

Raksha. Canon 50mm, ISO 1600, no flash

Moon was visible even close to sunrise


Early morning mist adding a surreal feel to the trees

Clouds proved favorable enough to get this shot

Had to wait quite a while to get a person at the right point in the picture

The tea bushes clothed the mountain side like a lush green carpet

Rathi. Fill in flash alleviating the harsh shadows of the midday sun to an extent.



View from the small peak that we climbed first

Captured Tharunya against the blown-out sky while she was admiring some distant mountains

We found this nice rock where you could dangle your feet hundreds of meters above the valley below


The tree under which we had lunch

Su decided to take a quick post lunch siesta

The summit outcrop which we reached after a short trek

Inside Kudremukh campus

This bee was having a feast with all the flowers around

Monday, May 26, 2008

Gender & Leadership

Browsing through my laptop, I found this essay I'd written as the final report for the Gender & Leadership elective during my Post Graduate Program in Management. The course instructors were Profs. Lynda Moore and Stacy Blake-Beard from Simmons Graduate School of Management.

Thought it might be an interesting read for some out here.

The most memorable learning came right in the first class. Through the readings and the experiences share by classmates, I realized that although the modern workplace has come a long way in trying to ensure equality of opportunity for men and women, there is still a long way to go to obtain genuine equality. Women continue to face covert discrimination in terms of appraisal parameters and pay as well. A woman’s simultaneous role as a wife/mother is seen as being competitive to her career interest whereas the same is not the case with a man’s role as a husband/father. Although the attitude is slowly changing, many companies still believe that women are less committed to their careers and will sooner or later sacrifice their career for the sake of a family.

The class discussions revealed that many successful career women have had to make a forced “choice” in choosing their careers over families and inwardly miss the comfort of a family. In the Indian context again, many successful career women are either single or have very strong family support systems. (As per the reading Top 25 most powerful business women in India). Even so, having such supportive husbands who are willing to make sacrifices for the sake of the wife’s career is a very rare occurrence.

The readings also emphasised the benefits of having a mentor at the workplace and the implications of mentorship for a successful career. Not so obvious was the research that revealed that women do better if they have men for mentors, because having a man mentor helps them “break into” the “old boy’s network” and gain acceptance for their competence as it is vouched for by the man who takes her under his guidance. However, the implications of such a strategy are quite profound. First, not all women may find it comfortable to request for a male mentor. Second, even if they do request, they risk alienating other women who may have agreed/wanted to mentor them. Thirdly, there is a fine balance that must be maintained in a man-woman mentor-mentee relationship. There is the risk of office gossip, and any contact outside of office may be misconstrued to have sexual overtones. One possible way of averting this is to have a small group of 2-3 senior colleagues take responsibility for a group of junior colleagues. That way all activity, designed to promote mentor-mentee relationship, outside of work will have to be as a group and the chances for malicious gossip is minimised. Another memorable framework for analyzing networks was the matrix based on agreement and trust to classify contacts, and using this to understand when and how to leverage each type of contact. For example, when the need is to get a contrary but honest opinion, it is best to go to an opponent.

Despite being capable and having adequate qualifications, on the ground realities also sometimes affect women adversely, such as the restriction placed on women’s work roles in conservative cultures, not being taken as a serious professional, or that traditionally, women are expected to make career moves keeping in mind their partner’s career choices, whereas reciprocity remains rare. In this matter, I see that the policy followed by some of the Indian IT firms, which firstly encourage people to refer and have their significant other join the same company, and secondly, help such couples to be geographically close (catering to the familial need) while working on separate projects (to prevent overt in-office competition), as a good policy.

Highlighting the simultaneity that women face, Dr. Uma spoke of her career journey and how she has achieved significant success as a businessperson, mother, and wife. The most striking insight I obtained from her talk was the fact that successful women have to typically endure office gossip as they climb the ladder of success. While she advised budding women managers to take such things in their stride, I’ve determined that as a male manager, in the future, I will not only refrain from indulging in some gossip but also actively try to reduce such gossip if I see it occurring within my team/organization. Publicly congratulating women for their professional accomplishments – as and when they are achieved – will reduce such gossip during promotion times. Also, a possible best practice that can be initiated would recommend that if a male and female colleague have to meet outside of office, it would help to meet in a public place (such as a coffee-shop) as against either one going to the residence of the other, which could lead to unnecessary gossip.
Modern women are every bit as focussed on and committed to their careers as men are and expect to get the same opportunities for career advancement. This can present some practical challenges as was illustrated by Ellen Moore’s case where she desired to take up an opportunity available in Saudi Arabia, but her male manager expressed reservations because of the country’s male dominated culture that would not make enable her to be taken seriously. It is easy to understand the woman’s disappointment and feeling of being marginalized in the corporate world in such a situation, but the lesson for managers is to handle such situations with tact. Managers can research and present precedents where the company genuinely tried to experiment by sending a woman into such situations but failed due to extraneous circumstances. Further, the managers must explain the nuances of the situation and then leave the final choice to the woman. If she wants to go ahead, the manager must let her. If she succeeds, it is good for the company and if she doesn’t (due to external circumstances beyond her control), she would admit it and then can be recalled into the previous assignment. It is important to note that during such recall, a manager must not consider the woman to have “failed” and it must not negatively affect her appraisal or career path. After all, the company was well aware that the chance of success was very slim, anyhow.

While the case of Ellen Moore may appear to be demonstrating the boundaries presented to geographical cross-boundary movement for women, it also has a subtle theme that becoming culturally sensitive and learning to working within the boundaries of the host country is paramount, irrespective of gender. A male manager may not face constraints in entering the country, but once there it is his cultural intelligence that will help him motivate local employees and achieve the organizational objectives.

As organizations become aware of the importance of giving women equal opportunity and to retain talent, there is a concerted effort on the part of companies to recruit, train, promote, and retain women employees. An example of this was in the Montreal Bank case. Such initiatives must be encouraged and driven by the CEO office, but the caveat is that programs designed for this purpose must be careful not to reverse discriminate against men or to be construed as promoting women based on gender rather than for capabilities. If such perceptions pervade the organization, there is likely to be intense discontentment among the men who will only resent the success of their women colleagues even more. Carried to an extreme, the remedy may actually turn out to be worse than the disease.

Stereotypes continue to pervade the workplace. Men leaders are expected to be aggressive, independent, competent, and dominant whereas women are expected to be emotional, submissive, gentle, and tactful. If a woman’s behaviour exhibits traits associated with male leaders, she isn’t perceived to be a leader, but as someone who someone who is “pushy”. Similarly, if men exhibit traits associated with women, they are perceived to be “soft” and not leadership material. Such stereotyping may force people to try and fit into the expected mould and thereby diminish their effectiveness as leaders because they are trying to be someone different from their natural selves. Possibly, such stereotyping is the result of childhood experiences where children are taught to behave in ways expected of their gender. Research has proven that children who play with toys marketed for their gender are joined by their peers, whereas children who play with toys meant for the opposite gender are left alone (Maccoby, 1998). As parents, it is important to be aware of the long term implications of such behaviour on the psyche of the child.

These stereotypes also affect work-life balance. While many (typically male) managers expect and understand women’s dual commitment to work and home, the same benefit is not accorded to male employees. Implicitly, the assumption made is that all men are driven, aggressive, and career-oriented and will happily put their personal family life on the backburner for corporate advancement. (An example of this can be seen in the company policies many companies in India follow. While women are given the legally stipulated paid maternity leave of 3 months, men get at the most 5 days of paternity leave, but in many cases even this is not given. In other cases, the policy exists purely on paper as men are reluctant to avail of leave for fear of being perceived as not committed to work.) This is a gross generalization, because many men want to accord a high priority to the family as well. If men are seen to be openly giving their personal life a high priority, they run the risk of being typecast as not being committed to work and it could have implications for career promotions. It is important to understand that both men and women need to have a healthy work life balance and that this is in the company’s best interest. Recent media reports are rife with stories of rising lifestyle diseases in urban India due to long excessive work hours and excessive stress. Losing valuable talented employees due to lifestyle diseases is far worse for a company than to retain the employees but keeping them happy by giving sufficient avenues to achieve a work-life balance.

For me, as an aspiring manager and corporate leader, another significant revelation lay in the experiences shared by my classmates. A vast majority of them who had had male managers typically attributed transactional leadership qualities to them but those who had had female managers attributed transformational leadership to the women. And these opinions are not without basis. My first manager when I was a fresh engineering graduate was a woman who I would describe as calm, understanding, and supportive. A few years later, I was working under a man who was aggressive, blunt, and task oriented. Both of them demanded performance but it was how they demanded it that differed. As a rookie in the industry, I found it comforting to have a manager who was relationship oriented, but prompting me to raise the bar higher and propelling me beyond it required someone who was more demanding. In addition, in a previous elective course (Managing Teams), we learnt that neither transactional nor transformational management techniques are always appropriate. Hence, men and women managers have a lot to learn from each other. This was proven by the research of Cann and Siegfred (1990) who say that “effective leaders, those who can respond successfully to the variety of demands and situations encountered by leaders, must be behaviourally androgynous.”

The underlying current to all the classes was that while the realization for the need for change was growing, there was little consensus on how such change must be effected. Making radical, full blown changes (such as replacing half of top management with women) are fraught with the dangers of being viewed as unmeritocratic and rousing resentment against the women so chosen. Besides, corporations being risk averse will simply not make radical changes, no matter how desirable. Simple verbal/written commitment to empowerment of women at the workplace can appear to be paying lip sympathy. A fine balance must be achieved, and the idea of tempered radicalism that was introduced seems perfect to achieve change while ensuring that everybody understands the reasons behind the policies, gets buy-in so that future efforts are not sabotaged, and then implements it effectively.

I took this course in order to sensitise myself to gender related issues at the workplace. In the class where we discussed voice, I noticed that many of the women students came up with personal anecdotes where they had to stand up for themselves – often against convention and family – to do what they believed was in their best interest. That really hit home, because I’ve rarely felt the conventional pressures to conform and I realized that we men get away relatively easy with being rebels. That class has been imprinted in my mind and it has implications on my decision making skills at the workplace.

Prior to ISB and this course, I would rarely have considered approaching work-situation related problems using the lens of Gender. But now, I realize that there is a practical reason to look at situations and decisions from the perspective of how both genders would perceive it. I’m now able to appreciate that rationalizing a business situation or decision from a Gender perspective is not an exercise in bashing either men or women, but simply being cognizant of the role interplay each gender is expected to play at work and in the society and to harmonize those expectations for mutual benefit of the company as well as the employee.