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You Cant Read This Without Crying! An Open Challenge!

Discussion in 'Saturdays with Varalotti' started by varalotti, Oct 6, 2006.

  1. varalotti

    varalotti IL Hall of Fame

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    Most Gracious ILites,
    This is one of those stories I wrote with tears in my eyes. The seed for this story was sown by my friend and fellow trainer Mr.Suresh who narrated a simple incident when we were in a leadership camp as faculties. The incident was hurting my heart continuously until I brought it out as a short story. It was published in Vikatan 6 years ago. It is very difficult to read this story with dry eyes. Even I, who wrote it and would have read it at least a hundred times cannot do it. If you try and succeed, please let me know.
    And that's why the story is titled,

    The Challenge
    A Short Story by Varalotti Rengasamy
    “You are … Mr… .. ”
    “Mahendar, Madam.”
    “How do you know my lawyer? It is only on his insistence that I gave you an appointment on an otherwise very hectic day. So be brief and to the point. Don’t waste my time. Tell me about yourself. What do you think you can do for my company which is already the industry-leader? You have just five minutes.”
    Mahendar was baffled by the curt manner in which he was received. He did not expect a red carpet. Nor was he prepared for this treatment. He was not even asked to sit. But he had a mission to achieve and did not mind the discourtesy.
    “Thank you for the time, Madam. May I sit and talk, Madam?”
    “By all means.”
    “Madam, I am a trainer, a HR man, by profession. I train people, especially those working for companies like yours , to enhance their productivity and to hone their skills.
    “I was working as a Personnel Manager in a Mumbai company before venturing into this profession. I can teach your employees how to work with involvement, how to excel in human relations and how to achieve the targets by smart work.
    “Your lawyer attended one of my training seminars; he should have been impressed by what I said on that day. It was he who requested me to meet you.”
    Having finished the opening talk to his satisfaction Mahendar now surveyed the lady sitting before him. She was in her late forties. Wrinkles had just started to appear in an otherwise flawless face. Her forehead was bereft of thilak or other marks. She had lost her husband long ago.

    She should have been extraordinarily beautiful in her prime. But now…. a stern look and a dry, commanding voice to match that look, the thick glasses she wore and the vertical creases in her forehead marred her beauty and showed that she had hardened over the years.

    She was well known in her business circles for her cut-throat nature and hard decisions. She had outwitted and outsmarted the toughest tycoons in her industry and was clearly ahead in the dog-eat-dog race. Mahendar thought that the soft name Saradha did not match the personality it represented.

    Saradha spoke in a stern voice.

    “Look here, young man, I am the MD of a five hundred crore-company. And I am the market leader. My staff and my workers turn out good work and are paid at the top end of the market.
    “Even in this recession we are doing well – we make good profits. So I don’t think I have any use for you or your fancy training programmes. Honestly I do not believe in all this humbug – training, seminars etc. They are just a waste of time and money.”

    “I am sorry,Madam, but I have to differ from you. If you give me a chance I will prove that your employees do need training. With a little bit of training your people will do far better than what they are doing at present. If I fail in my challenge I will concede my defeat and do whatever you order me to do.”
    Mahendar knew that Saradha loved challenges in life and there could be no better way to convince her than to trap her into a challenge.

    As he expected Saradha took the bait but…..

    “Are you throwing a challenge to me? I’m accepting it. Now the terms. I will give you whatever facilities you ask for and we will agree on a time frame.
    “You train some of my staff. If you can bring about a change in them – I mean a perceptible change , a change which I can feel for myself - then you win and I will give you a lakh of Rupees.
    “Otherwise I win and you will have to work as my personal attendant – my peon - for a week – without wages. Agreed?”

    Mahendar was not prepared for this kind of a challenge. He had thought that at the worst he will be denied monetary consideration for a week long training programme.
    That itself will be bad enough as he was in need of money. But that was manageable and can be thought as a part of his struggle to gain a standing in his chosen profession.
    Working as a peon for this arrogant lady was something different. The humiliation will be too much for him to bear. But if he backs up from the challenge now Saradha will not miss the opportunity to make fun of him. And the humiliation will be no less than working for her as her peon.
    Mahendar realised that he had burnt the bridges he had crossed and there was no way back. The way forward was hazardous, but at least there was a way. The conditions of the challenge were quite vague.

    How was he ever going to convince Saradha of the change brought about by his training? Motivation, human relations or other skills cannot be objectively measured. Unlike a weight-loss programme where a participant can pinpoint the effectiveness to the nearest hundred grams there are no tools to measure human skills.

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  2. varalotti

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    Mahendar might be immensely satisfied about the success of his sessions but Saradha could still dismiss them as farce.
    Given her prejudice against the very concept of training that is the most likely to be the result.
    He needed some Dutch courage to accept the challenge. But in a way he was trapped and it was all his own making. He wanted to put up the best fight before he fell.

    “Yes Madam, I accept your challenge. I will choose thirty of your staff and train them for about a week’s time. But give me some more time for choosing the trainees, and other preparatory work.

    “As to your feeling the impact of my training, I fully rely on your brutal honesty for which you are well known in your circles. “

    “Remember, our condition is that you should make me feel the difference. Other than assuring you I will be honest I cannot commit any thing in advance.

    “One more condition: we should keep the challenge to ourselves. You should not tell about our challenge to the trainees. Today is the Fifth; and we shall meet on Twentieth of this month. And that will be the final meeting. My PA will provide you with whatever facilities you may require for the programme.”

    “Thank you, Madam.”

    As Mahendar turned to leave Saradha called him.

    “Mr.Mahendar just check your wardrobe to make sure that you have a khaki dress. That’s my peon’s uniform. I hate my peons coming to work with a <st1:place>Park Avenue</st1:place> shirt and a bow-tie. Got the message? Best of luck, young man.”

    Mahendar set out to work the very next morning. He got a list of employees who were reporting directly to Saradha. There were about a sixty of them. He carefully studied their bio-data.

    Then he met them and chatted with them to find out whether they were interested in learning any thing new and more importantly whether they were prepared to unlearn the old.

    After the personal interviews he chose thirty of them. He smiled ironically when he found that Saradha’s personal attendant was on the list.

    As a matter of procedure the list went to the MD for her approval. Saradha signed the list with a mischievous smile inwardly appreciating Mahendar for the tactful selection. She also reminded herself that now it was her turn to move the coins in this game of chess.

    Mahendar chose ‘Human Relations’ as the theme of his training programme. With thirty hand-picked enthusiastic participants the session appeared to be a success from the very start.

    The prelims and introductions were over and Mahendar had just started the session with one of his very impressive slides. As the audience were muttering ‘wow’s and taking in the impact, Saradha barged in to the seminar hall with a stunningly beautiful girl in tow.

    The trainees ignored the wonderful slide which showed two lovers talking sweet nothings with a glorious sunset as the backdrop and their eyes were now riveted on their MD and her beautiful charge. The youngish girl was a clear distraction to the all-male training group. Saradha spoke with an air of authority.

    “I am absolutely sorry to disturb you Mr. Mahendar. This is my daughter Preethi. She is doing her second year Engineering and is enjoying her semester holidays. With your permission I want her to be included in this group. Hope you don’t mind. “

    Mahendar was not so naïve to miss the point. There could be no greater danger to his training sessions than the presence of the boss’ daughter in it. Other employees would go out of the way to impress her or worse still keep their mouths shut in the fear that whatever they talk might reach the MD’ s ears.

    And Preethi’s beauty – it distracted even the highly motivated trainer himself not to speak of the middle-aged self-conscious trainees. Now he knew that Saradha had completed her move and now it was his turn. He stood for a while, took a deep breath and made an attempt to salvage the situation.

    “Thanks a lot, Madam. If you are sending your daughter herself to my program, if you are convinced that even your daughter needs training, well, I am amazed at the confidence you have in me and in the very concept of training.”

    Then he turned towards his trainees.

    “Friends I am sure that your MD’s gesture will further enthuse you and there is going to be success for all of us in this venture. Am I right?”
    Saradha did not miss the extra stress on the word “all of us”. The group applauded its assent. Saradha murmurred something and started walking out of the hall. As she was near the door Mahendar’s beaming voice stopped her in her tracks.

    “One thing, Madam. I cannot give your daughter a special treatment simply because she is the MD’s daughter. To me she is just one among the thirty, I am sorry, thirty one trainees. Period. No special privileges either from me or the other participants. OK?”

    Saradha knew that though Mahendar was addressing her, the message was for the Group – to be normal and natural and ignore the boss’ daughter.

    Saradha did not know what to say. She had virtually forced a reluctant Preethi to attend the session. Preethi might take these strong words as an excuse to quit the programme then and there. She looked at Preethi.

    But Preethi was impressed by Mahendar’s courage and spontaneity. She chirped in with a disarming smile.

    “Perfectly all right for me, Master. Now will you please allot a seat for me in your class? Or you want me to stand up on the bench for coming late?”
    Saradha left the place with a smile.
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  3. varalotti

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    The next five days were eventless. Saradha was immersed in her office work and forgot all about Mahendar and his challenge. It was <st1:time minute="30" hour="11">half past eleven</st1:time> on a Sunday night. Saradha was looking at some files in her bedroom when she heard that timid, gentle knock.

    “Who is that?”

    “Ma, it is me. Preethi.”

    “Come in Preeth. Why are you up so late? Are you all right,dear?”

    Saradha affectionately placed the palm of her hand on Preethi’s forehead.
    “I’m all right, Ma.”
    “Then… “
    “Ma.. .. I want to …. I would like to … .. I want to… “

    Saradha was surprised, to say the least. What happened to this girl? When Preethi had something to say she told it directly without mincing words. The hesitation and the uncertainty in her voice was quite uncharacteristic of this dare-devil teenager. ‘Has she fallen in love or something?’ Saradha wondered.

    Saradha placed her hands on Preethi’s shoulders and made her to sit by her side.

    “Out with it, Preeth. Whatever it is. I am your mother, dear. No need to fear.”

    Emboldened by her mother’s entreaties Preethi started talking.

    “Ma I have just come here to say a big ‘Thanks’ to you for everything. Ma, you are the boss of a five-hundred-crore company. And we have more than a dozen servants and maids at home. But still you serve me food every day with your own hands.
    “And if I am ill you throw aside all your office work and sit by my bedside all day. I know Ma, when Dad died you were just twenty eight. With the riches and with your beauty you could have easily remarried.
    “But you opted to stay single only for my sake. And you brought me up playing the roles of the father and the mother. You have given me everything in life. I have hurt you a thousand times with my harsh words. Never have I understood your love or appreciated your sacrifice. But you have never spoken an unkind word to me. I am an ungrateful animal. Ma, how I am going to… how I am going to… Ma, will you please….”

    Saradha could not bear her daughter’s love any longer. With violent sobs she hugged her daughter tight. Both the mother and daughter wept silently for a while in each other’s arms.
    When Saradha talked again it was in a choked voice.
    “Preethma, what happened to you, my dearest? Why are you telling all these things now?”
    Preethi wiped her eyes and started to narrate.

    It was the second day of Mahendar’s training programme. After giving them many valuable inputs on human relations Mahendar was summarising the session in the most powerful words.

    “Why do most of us fail in our human relations? Why are we not able to relate to others without friction? Why are we mostly misunderstood by those who are close to us?

    “We want to be praised by all – by our parents, our teachers, friends, lovers, spouses, children, our bosses, our subordinates, by every one we meet. But remember everybody wants it that way.

    “Do we adequately praise others? Do we sincerely appreciate others and tell them so right on their face? No. When we receive help from others we casually throw away a formal thanks and go on our way searching for some one to admire us.

    "We do not have the basic realisation that as we long for others’ praise so are others longing for ours. This fundamental truth in human relationships is often ignored to our peril.”

    Many were trying to take down Mahendar’s words.
    “Don’t do that. Don’t scribble on your note books. I am sure none of you will look back what you have written. Just listen to me. Your MD is not going to ask you to take a written or oral test of what you have learnt here.

    “It is not enough that you take this basic fact as a bit of information. You will have to embrace this simple truth with all your body, all your mind, all your heart – in short with all your being.

    “To make you do that I am going to give you a small exercise as a homework. You are going to celebrate a week of appreciation and thanksgiving starting from tomorrow. “You will have to openly praise at least three persons every day for the whole of the week. Don’t just flatter but sincerely appreciate; speak from your heart to express your gratitude for what they have done.

    “Obviously you can’t do that to strangers. The persons who receive your praise may be your friends, colleagues, your spouse, your parents, your children, your brothers or sisters. It could be even the maid in your house or the peon in your office. But remember minimum three in a day for the next seven days.

    “One more condition. You will have to appreciate the chosen person right on his or her face. You should not do it through the phone, e-Mail, fax or SMS. And you have to write in your note book whom did you praise and what words you used.

    We shall meet after a week. I will see your note books before I sum up my programme. I can promise you one thing. If you do the exercise sincerely you will know how to relate to other human beings. And that’s the greatest art a person should learn if he wants to be happy in his or her life. All the best, folks.”
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  4. varalotti

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    Preethi prepared a day-wise list of whom should be praised during that week and was carrying out the praising programme as per the list.

    That was a Sunday. The first name in the ‘praise-list’ was one of her former teachers. Preethi knew where she lived. She drove all the way to the old teacher’s house and made her eyes glisten with her open words of appreciation for what she did to Preethi as her teacher some ten years ago.

    The second in the hit-list was an elderly cook who has been with the family for the past twenty years.

    The old lady who was both friend-less and relative-less could not control her sobs as Preethi expressed her thanks for her devoted service to the household all these years.

    The third and the last name for the day was a friend and a class-mate. She was not in town on that day and someone had to be substituted in her place.

    Even while preparing the list Preethi wanted to include her mother’s name. But she felt rather shy and a little embarassed at the thought of praising her own mother openly.

    She loved her mother all right. But the uneasiness in expressing one’s thanks to one’s own mother was too much for Preethi to bear.

    Now as Preethi was looking for a third person for that day the thought of her mother came again . When a person who taught Preethi just for a year and a person who had befriended her only three years back figure in the praise-list it is quite unfair to leave out her mother whose only object in life was to bring up Preethi and see to it she was happy at all times.

    She felt a little shy to start with. But soon she broke all her mental barriers to confront her mother with the uncontrolled outpourings of her love.

    Ma’m you have called me a bit too early. We still have two days to go for the appointed D-day. Have you decided that I have already lost the challenge? No problem. I have also brought with me a set of khaki uniform. When shall I start my duties, Ma’m? Right now? Shall I bring some coffee for you?”

    Saradha just smiled and started to talk in an unusually soft voice.

    “Oh, No, Mr.Mahendar. Don’t tease me. Please have your seat. I’ve lost the challenge and you know, I am happy about it. I included my daughter in the programme only to frustrate its objects.

    “But you went one step ahead and proved your point through my daughter herself. I have been nursing a silent grief all these years. I have given up everything for my daughter’s sake.

    "But what I did get in return? A few harsh words now and then, indifference most of the times and a total absence of understanding all the time. She takes care not to hurt her friends and teachers but I am a sort of shock absorber for her – receiving the shocks and frustrations her friends or others inflict on her.

    "I have cried many nights that my daughter has not understood my love. But you know what my daughter did yesterday night?”

    Saradha picked up a tissue to dab her eyes.

    “This silly girl Preethi walked into my room and thanked me for what I had done to her. She appreciated the sacrifices I lovingly made to bring her up. Not that a mother needs such an acknowledgement; but when she gets it there could not be a happier person.

    Even if I give this entire company to you it will not be an equal gift for such a happiness. But the company is not fully mine. So as a token of having accepted defeat at your hands I am giving a cheque for ten lakhs. There could not be a happier loser in the whole world than me.”
    Saradha dabbed her eyes again.

    “Now let’s talk business. I entrust to you the responsibility of training all the employees of this company including me. Please prepare a contract for the purpose and I will sign below the dotted lines.”

    Mahendar was too stunned to speak.

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  5. Chitvish

    Chitvish Moderator IL Hall of Fame

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    I go first, as I very often do in your threads !

    Dear Sridhar,
    Do you challenge that we cannot help shedding tears on reading the story or Preethi would not have understood and appreciated her mother but for following the “humanistic” approach prescribed by Mahendar ? I think, both are right !
    Celebrating a week of appreciation and thanksgiving is such a beautiful concept.
    Mahendran needs to be congratulated undoubtedly. When we want to celebrate “ appreciation and thanksgiving”, our perspective towards people with whom we interact, changes completely and suddenly we start looking out for plus points instead of what is lacking.
    Sridhar, you have beautifully described that Preethi needed a mirror in Mahendran to see her own eyes, her mother !
    The following lines are very striking:
    Motivation, human relations or other skills cannot be objectively measured. Unlike a weight-loss programme where a participant can pinpoint the effectiveness to the nearest hundred grams there are no tools to measure human skills.
    How true !
    I read this story in your book “ Visaranai”, but please accept my congratulations for a very beautiful translation. If it was jaggery in tamil, it is sugar in English.
    You are challenging your own self to improve your writing skills with every story, you write. You are winning as well, Sridhar !

    Love & regards,
    Last edited: Oct 6, 2006
  6. safa

    safa Bronze IL'ite

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    my heartiest congratualations Sridhar!

    This is a very very good story...I really felt sad that I couldn't have read this before six years.
    Your story teaches an important lesson that we must keep in our whole life..This is the real thing everybody needs in their life and nobody gets..
    Thanks a lot, for showing some simple but commendable ways to enhance our happiness in daily life...
    Best wishes,
  7. anjana

    anjana Bronze IL'ite

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    I lost the challenge Sridhar.

    Dear Sridhar,
    That was an emotional story and was well written. I could not help crying and you were right I did loose the challenge.

    You are absolutely right sometimes we do forget to appreciate the ones we love and do expect appreciation from others.You did bring out this message through your characters in the story. Waiting for more such stories in the future Sridhar.
  8. Kamla

    Kamla IL Hall of Fame

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    Challenged alright:)

    Dear Sridhar,

    You do win hands down:)
    What a lovely story. Is this fiction or was it based on a real incident? Reading your intro gives me a feel that you based it on some real happening. Whatever, the story was gripping and I was really worried for Mahander. Life is like that...in the business of living it, the real perspective is lost sometimes. Good for Saradha that Mahender happened to cross her life and lighted it up.
    So true that most of us go out of our way to impress others and forget the one who is most important to us.
    As always, your narration carries a moral with it and that must be the secret of your successful writings:)

    L, Kamla
  9. purnima_2k

    purnima_2k Senior IL'ite

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    Do u like to make us Cry?:)

    Beautiful story Varalotti, the ending could not have been more perfect. I liked the character of Mahindra and Sarada very much.Apt title , apt characters , apt snippet and a very apt ending!Everthing seems so perfect.Thanks for the post, Sir!

  10. Vidya24

    Vidya24 Gold IL'ite

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    my praise list


    Another sensitive story and you have reminded us of the need to thank and appreciate. You do come up with all kinds of topics, set to make us think. I was wondering how you would build the story when I read of the challenge. Was good.

    Here is adding you to my praise list!

    I read recently that when we thank someone, the emotion of gratitude makes us secrete some enzymes or hormones that are very beneficial to our system. And conversely, the ones secreted when we are jealous are the most harmful.

    So thanks and way to go!

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