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Communication Skills Empathy and Compassion Fiction Relationships

The Love Story of a Listener

The Love Story of a Listener

By PPD

March 17, 2021

Strings of thoughts are partying loudly in the mind of the listener. Not that the thoughts aren’t tired of excessive partying. However, they are so used to their chaotic lifestyle that despite their best efforts, they can hardly practice stillness or focus on an external voice. Every thought tries its best to maintain its distinctiveness amid the temptation to be a part of the crowd, but the force of the crowd is too powerful to resist. The listener has no capacity left to listen.

Those words, though heard, crave for a listener.

In a turn of events, the roles change. The Listener becomes the Speaker; the Speaker becomes the Listener. Both are tired of each other’s inability to listen.

The Listener texts the Speaker. We need to talk, Honey.

Yes, Baby. We need to talk. Prompt comes the reply.

In the evening, after work, as the sky dusk, they meet at Sunshine Cafe, where they went for their first date.

The Listener clears his voice. This isn’t working. I always try to empathize with you. But…

Is that so? Empathy isn’t enough, Baby. You may understand how I feel but do you listen when you listen? The Speaker husks.

But… you never let me complete my line. Retorts the Listener. Anyway, your words sound like a circular logic to me. Why can’t you keep things simple?

Because you don’t let me. Do you remember how you responded last night when I put my bottle on the table and asked you if you could get me some water? You said No! NO?!

Did I? An apologetic Listener lowers his voice.
You assumed that I had asked you whether you would like to have some water. You are SO conditioned by your assumptions. The Speaker’s face contorts with sadness.

Yes. I am sorry. A little embarrassed, the Listener continues. Tell me how do I make reparations, Honey. You are the neuroscientist.
This is not an Oxford debate. You certainly aren’t Shashi Tharoor. You don’t need to make reparations. The Speaker sounds serious.

I am trying to make things work. Help me understand.

Okay. Okay. If you must know, Baby, the reactive part of our brain frequently makes associations based on our expectations and how we are used to reading and interpreting social situations, thereby reducing our ability to decode the obvious. Rarely do we use our thinking brain in such situations. The Speaker pauses, waiting for a nod of approval. Do you get me?

Go on. This is interesting.

The Speaker’s eyes spark, as he leans forward, putting the cup of coffee on the left of the table. You see, our ability to pay attention, to listen is impacted by an array of distractions abound—within and without us. The urgency of attending distractions is too compelling to leave any room for slowing down.

Gotcha, Honey! This is why, I guess, we end up making wrong assumptions about people…
The Speaker completes the line. And, their behaviors, their intentions. Blah! Blah!

We do so without knowing or understanding the background or the context. This pattern blocks our empathy, and, in turn, our ability to make meaningful connections. Am I correct?

Absolutely, Babe!

The Listener becomes a little emotional. Maybe, I am not as empathetic as I think of myself. Tell me what I need to do to win your heart again. Whatever you want, I will do it.

Now, don’t get so worked up! It is actually pretty simple. In the larger scheme of human relationships—with known and unknown people—-we develop better camaraderie when we are capable of doubting our negative assumptions, which stem from the accumulated biases, prejudices of our experiences, and confirming our good assumptions about people. To reach there, we need our ears to listen and our mouth to shut up, our judgment suspended. The positive assumptions become a self-fulfilling prophecy; they serve everyone well. You see. It is simple. The Speaker smiles.

I don’t really understand this part. Why do I need to start with positive assumptions? That would be giving the bad people a license to harm me.

You are a good person, Baby. This is why I love you so much. The Speaker whispers and continues in a deep voice. You
see, people, barring rare exceptions, are mostly good. If you stop using social media and watching news, you will see that the world is a much better place than what they make us believe it to be. You will see the good in people. When we project our genuinely positive assumptions on others, we earn not only their commitment but also great results. It is a win-win situation. And, that smile in the corner of your eyes! Irresistible!

The Listener blushes. I am lucky to have you in my life, Honey. Though I am not qualified enough to comment on this, but I think that that capacity to make healthy, not unreasonably positive, assumptions require a little bit of both the reactive and thinking parts of our brain. In defense of the reactive brain, it draws from raw emotions, the Freudian ID, the impulses. They are the eyes that see serendipity, creativity and hear the messages of nature. Don’t you think so?

Freudian ID! Oh My God! You are on fire. Are you reading my books secretly? Grins the Speaker.

The Listener smiles. I don’t reveal my secrets.

I bet you don’t. I have one request.

Anything for you. Just say it.

Baby, can you put that little, proud empathy of yours into motion? Like, some real action? Maybe, you can try to be a little compassionate towards yourself? Self-compassionate? You are taking care of the house, the kids, our parents. It is a lot of hard work. That might save our relationship too.

Done. Done. And, done. He holds his hands and kisses him.

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Communication Skills Fiction

The Moral of Miscommunication 2.0

The Moral of Miscommunication 2.0

By PPD

March 12, 2021

(Read Part 1 here)

Varun heard about Aakash’s failed attempt to woo the lady. He ridiculed Aakash for days until one day he asked for Varun’s help. He narrated all his failed attempts on Tinder. Aakash was a talented salesman but “selling” himself to a woman was not his cup of tea.

Varun gladly helped his best friend in setting up an interesting Tinder profile. Aakash gradually became a popular heartthrob on Tinder. After two weird dates, the third one was finally the lucky charm. Aakash fell in love with Ria, a freelance graphic designer.

Aakash was ready for the next big step in his relationship. He was looking for the perfect ring. He browsed the Internet looking for the most elegant design at a reasonable price. The flood of options confused him. He gave up his search.

Probing into his salesman instincts, he came up with a customized solution: a ring with the initials engraved.

Amid the shimmering candlelight at a rooftop restaurant, he uttered, “Will you marry me? I can’t think of anyone who completes me more than you do. You are good enough for me.”

The next second, his face was splattered with wine.

Moral: Articulation matters.

A salesman’s persistence finally yielded results. Yes, the girl replied “Yes!” in the second attempt.

He introduced Aditya to his wife on his wedding reception.

Aditya greeted, “Congratulations! Wish you both a successful married life together.”

His wife exclaimed, “We weren’t failures before!”

Moral: Always wish someone a “Happy married life ahead.” There is already enough talk of success in almost everything else.

His newly wedded wife sent him to the grocery store for the first time. The dutiful husband returned with:

One bread,

Two pounds of butter,

Three packs of 1 kg salt,

and Four dozen eggs.

Bewildered, the wife looked at her list:

1 bread

2 pound of butter

3 salt 1kg

4 dozen eggs

Moral: Punctuation matters.

 Ria tried to contribute modestly to the household income through her freelance projects. Her mentor’s influence on her was huge. Her designs were deeply inspired by his works.

In gratitude, she explained, “This work has been derived from my mentor’s.”

The awestruck clients now looked less impressed.

Moral: “Derived” and “inspired” are distant cousins.  

One day, sensing Ria’s sadness, her friend enquired, “What did the doctor say?”

Ria broke the news, “He said I have Diabetes!”

Her friend blurted, “Oh dear! Get well soon!”

Ria now looked even more heart-broken.

Moral: When someone suffers from a chronic ailment, never say “get well soon” to comfort them.

Aakash kept reaching new heights. He won the “Best Manager Award” for the third consecutive year. He was promoted to Senior Sales Manager. His colleagues threw a promotion party.

“Meet my wife, Ria. She’s a housewife.” He announced.

“I thank my team and seniors for their unconditional support and dedication. I am a self-made man and I think you too should try to emulate…” said Aakash in his acceptance speech.

But thereafter, no more acceptance speeches were heard from Aakash, as the “Best Manager” award never came his way again. Also, from that day on, his abode was more house than home with a homemaker wife whose respect he had lost because of his insensibility.

Moral: Contradictions harm. Don’t demean a homemaker by calling her a “housewife.”

Ever since Aakash designated Ria as a housewife, she fell prey to insecurities and felt disconnected from him. Shrouded by a spiral of unexpressed feelings, one day, Ria began to cry blues to Akash saying: “I feel so lonely even in your presence. Aakash, you are so hard-hearted, inconsiderate, and unfeeling. The harsh adjectives, like bullets, pierced Aakash’s ego.

Stressed by overworking himself at office in order to fix his slipping reputation, he screamed saying, “Don’t blow things out of proportion. I do not have time for all this.”

Bruised by his words, Ria lost herself and pushed him to the wall. Aakash, fueled by revenge, swung punches at her, till his vengeful feelings were satiated and yelled at her “Go to hell, you mad woman.”

The demon in them triumphed.

Moral: Think, Feel, and Talk Empathy.

Things never improved for Aakash. It was all chaos. He got divorced, which also started impacting his professional life. On the recommendation of Varun, he decided to consult a psychiatrist.

“I have been getting suicidal thoughts ever since my relationship broke up.”

“Oh, how long did your affair last?” the psychiatrist enquired.

Shocked, he left the psychiatrist’s chamber never to return for counseling.

Moral: Relationship != Affair

 

With inputs from my mentees Dhruv Mohta, Rahul Agarwal, Smriti Singh, and Srija Chakraborty.

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Communication Skills Fiction

The Moral of Miscommunication

The Moral of Miscommunication

By PPD

March 07, 2021

In some corner of the city, someone envisioned another start-up. 

Bengaluru, high on entrepreneurial spirits, greeted a sunny Monday morning. Mr. Thapar, the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of QuickMunch, reached office before the rest of the team members. He had to get his numbers ready for the investors meet on Friday.                                                                  

After going through the accounts department’s report, the CFO said, “We are facing cash flow problems. We need to rationalize our cash outflows before the next funding round.”

The day after, Mr. Anand, the Sales Manager of the Beverages division, sent the CFO an explanation of his department’s expenses, while the Sales Manager of the Snacks division, Mr. Brahma, sent a revised expense budget for his department asking for lesser budgetary allocation for the next quarter.

“Well done,” the CFO told Mr. Brahma.

Moral: Carefully decipher discreet thoughts.

Sensing an opportunity to prove her merit, Anamika, the newly appointed secretary sent an e-mail to the IT department asking them “to fix any bugs in the payment gateway of the company’s e-commerce site.” 

Next day, the bug was fixed and the HR Manager was asked to recruit someone else to replace Anamika.

Moral: Don’t take business jargon in the literal sense.

To fill the vacancy, the HR Manager started interviewing candidates.

The HR Manager asked the first candidate, “How would you sum up your life in a single sentence?”

First Candidate: “I have been through several ups and downs in my life, but through everything, I have always made efforts to get high.”

Amused by the reply, she smiled and rejected the candidate. 

Moral: Sometimes there are no benefits of the doubt.

The HR Manager asked the second candidate, “How long would you work for us, if hired?”

Second Candidate: “Madam, I would work for as many hours as required.” 

The candidate was rejected. 

Moral: Understand the context from the perspective of the speaker.

After the interview process, Aditya, a recent graduate from Stellar Management Institute was offered the role.

The manager asked Aditya, “We are facing severe resource crunch. Will you be able to work under pressure?”

Aditya hesitatingly replied, “I can, for some time. But Madam, I would need access to toilets.”

The manager barred Aditya from replying to clients’ e-mails.  

Moral: Beware of idiomatic usage.

It was Friday, the D Day. The executives were meeting the existing and potential investors for the next round of funding. The CEO was anxious as the company grew marginally over the last year. 

One of the investors said, “My apologies. My investment would be more productive if I didn’t have to invest on wasting.”

Stunned by the remark, the CEO asked, “Why do you say so?” 

The investor pointed at a poster in the company’s office-canteen. It read: “Waste Less Food.”

Moral: Wasting is bad, even in “Less” amount. 

The very next day, the CFO scheduled an emergency team meeting with the General Manager, the Senior Sales Managers, and the Executives for a probable solution. After a long meeting of three hours, he asked the Sales team members to pass on their proposals. After reviewing them, he told the Vertical Head to “go ahead.”

Aakash and Ashutosh, two highly motivated Sales Assistants, got underway with their plans, keeping in mind their goals for that month.

A month later, in the Sales Review Meeting, Aakash was declared “Star Performer of the Month,” though the entire team fell short of the target by a margin of 8%. In order to find out the best approach, the Senior Sales Managers, along with their teams, brainstormed all ideas and tried to understand how Aakash outperformed his fellow executive. They gave both Aakash and Ashutosh a hypothetical case and asked them to pitch.

“So, adopting this technology will lead to a savings of INR 5000 per year,” concluded Ashutosh.

“By not adopting this technology, you incur a loss of INR 5000 annually,” pitched Aakash.

Moral:  How + What > What.

“Your performance is not bad,” the Senior Manager Brahma consoled Ashutosh. But the very next day, much to his surprise, Ashutosh resigned. 

“But I had told him that his performance was good,” Brahma commented. He had no clue why Ashutosh had left.

On hearing this, Ashutosh mentioned that while his current manager was “not bad,” he wanted to work with someone “good.”

Moral: Not bad != Good

Meanwhile, Aditya was settling in his new job. He reported directly to Aakash. But new problems piled up. Aditya greeted an intern as soon as she walked into the office, and looking at her, he complimented, “What a lovely skirt!”

He was served a notice for “sexual harassment at work.” When a woman walks into an office, it seems, you find the men who need to walk out.

Moral: Choose your words for compliments carefully.

Aditya is rarely at the scheduled start of 9:30 AM at the office.  

He texted at 9:40 AM: “sir i m cumming!!!  wl b a bit late…”

Aakash replied, “That’s quite a situation! Come when you are GTG.”

Moral: FYI, use short forms judiciously.

Aakash consistently delivered impressive performance over the next months. Recognizing his contributions, the management promoted him to Sales Manager. He became the youngest manager in the short history of the company. On a Saturday night, Aakash went out to celebrate with his friends. 

Enchanted by a gorgeous lady at the club, Aakash proceeded to ask her, “Hi! How you doing?”

“I am doing better than your grammar,” replied she.  

Moral: Bad grammar makes bad first impressions.

His best friend, Varun, who could not make it to the party, called him up the next morning and asked, “How did the party go?”

The reply came, “I enjoyed like anything.”

“In that case, I guess, I should ask ‘anything’ about how it liked the party.”

A face-palm moment followed. 

Moral: Stop doing things like “anything.”

To be continued…

 

With inputs from my mentees Dhruv Mohta, Rahul Agarwal, Smriti Singh, and Srija Chakraborty.

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Fiction Mind Technology

The F Addiction

The F Addiction

July 10, 2020

The night before, she had spent hours on planning the details. The hairs better be unkempt to contrast the nude makeup. The face cupped in a white pillow to add sharpness to the just-woke-up jawline. A book flipped aside, its identity concealed, to inspire curiosity. The loose t-shirt, light pink in color, on her to draw eyes to her femininity. The angled window drapes to let the right amount of light fall on her face. She thought of a caption—“When the sun sees the moon.”

She woke up at 6:30 am the following day. It didn’t take her much time to get the perfect shot. She, as usual, took longer than the usual—more than an hour—to edit the selfie to match the girl in her imaginations. Visuals of people going gaga for her on Facebook trended in her daydreams.

With hopes higher than her latest heels from Jimmy Choo, she posted the photo on Facebook. The anticipation of the magical red bar to notify her of likes on her photo dripped from her eyes glued to the phone’s screen. After almost 20 minutes of desperate waiting, she found a thick ring of blood on her index finger. She was so overtaken by anxiety that she didn’t realize that she was biting her finger.

Rita waited for seven hours to see her rise to stardom. She got twenty-three likes on her selfie. She sobbed. Pain rented the air.

The 31-year-old technology journalist lived in a blue-and-white prison named Facebook. The red notification was her blood.

That grief-stricken Rita bore little resemblance to the optimistic, confident girl she pretended to be at work. Her fingers trembled, her body drooped as her scary addiction to Facebook left her helpless.

“I don’t exist. No one notices me.”

Her cries came in gasps as she recalled how she had cooked up stories of her “wise” interactions with her baby girl to become a popular mom on Facebook. Rita yelped as if wounded by the knowledge of how her friends’ “viral” parenting posts describing their children’s sudden, profound thoughts had pressurized her to credit scripted comments—duly hash-tagged—to her four-year-old daughter.

To calm down, she sat down on her bed to continue writing the editorial piece for the Sunday issue.

Mark Zuckerberg, along with 40-odd geniuses, controls the attention of two billion people. With Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp under his belt now, the Wartime CEO is the undisputed king of the attention economy. Nothing stops him. Riots, genocides, data breaches, Instagram and WhatsApp founders’ quitting, bad press, fake news, ad boycott. He apologizes and moves on to his next game. The new-age Emperor Augustus Caesar is unstoppable; so are the rising profits of Facebook.

Every second of your attention makes Mark richer. He eats your attention for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And, shamelessly does he serve the rest to few dictators to manipulate you to vote for them.

It is unlikely that the single-minded Zuckerberg or the brilliant Sandberg would ever do anything to discourage the dangerously addictive behavior that keeps billions of people hooked on the opium-like newsfeed. Even those who understand how addiction works are held captive by the chances of dopamine release from a notification.

She couldn’t write a word. Her eyelids hung in shame.

After years of self-denial, Rita finally booked an appointment with a psychologist.

 

*Rita isn’t the real name of the individual.

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Fiction Mind Relationships Women

The Productivity Story

The Productivity Story

May 19, 2020

“Are you productive today?”

I asked the famous literary fiction writer; she promptly said, “Yes.” She had spent a considerable part of her day gazing at a blank word document on her laptop screen. In those hours, she had imagined multiple shades of a widow— the singlehood of the widow mixing, on her mental palette, with the plurality of biases against polygamy. The surging voice inside her had clamored for an opening line for her new novel. The writer’s block had lingered in her wordlessness.

She finds the journey of struggling with words quite meaningful. Meditative. The fruitful process of visualizing, creating the complex emotions of a character for hours is the preparation she needs to type her first word.

Those seemingly unproductive hours explain why all her books are bestsellers. How she wrote seven books by the age of 43. Why she has earned the reputation of an insanely productive literary genius. Paradox?

Paradox.

She has disciplined herself to be focused on a task, to persist even when there are no tangible results. Aware of the “just-one-time” trap, she distances herself from the temptation to check her phone—“for a minute,” “just once”—until she reaches the finish line. The instances when one minute extended to few good hours, she remembers. What does the phone have to offer her? Attention so seductive? She knows the deception that attention is, and talks herself out of gratifying her impulses.

So that she isn’t defeated by her fragile willpower when words refuse to cooperate, she keeps her desk free of distractions. The internet is switched off, the phone sleeps in another room. Out of sight, out of mind. A large peanut butter jar stationed on the desk caters to her food requirements. The rule is clear: no one disturbs her unless unavoidable.

After her recent divorce, a spiral of negative emotions ruined her ability to concentrate on writing. She wondered how a self-dependent woman like her became a slave of her own emotions. The fear of failing again in a relationship consumed her mind for days, leaving her with little mental space to pay attention to writing. Dealing with her emotions was no longer an option. In her daily journal, she wrote about them, their behavioral pattern; traced their roots as far as she could go. She identified herself as an airport, a temporary halt, where her emotions arrive at and depart from. With all the ruthlessness she could summon, she accepted them. She doubted their permanence and confirmed the importance of her work. They gradually lost their control over her.

Alongside writing, the single mother teaches a creative writing program. When she started teaching, she found it difficult to prioritize her day. Conceptualizing the classes, reviewing script submissions, writing every day, meeting literary agents, attending promotional tours, taking care of her family, et cetera. She resorted to multitasking. Reviewing scripts while spending time with her daughter. Absent in her presence. Neither could she enjoy her parenting time, nor could she do justice to teaching. The growing sense of dissatisfaction within her drove her to simplify her style of work.

“One thing at a time did I start doing. With 100% attention.” I noticed how sincerely she attended me. Her phone lying on its face didn’t own its owner. A deviation from the other celebrities I had interviewed.

She works less, achieves more.

“Multitasking is the common cold of productivity.” She showed me the note she had written in her journal. Red pen. Red journal.

“Unitask, Baby! I have taught myself how to live by this principle.” With gusto she uttered.

I couldn’t resist. “Where do you find the hope to write?”

“Hope? I find. In the sentence at a loss of words. In the wisdom of the young. In the asymmetry of perfection. In the poor cousin of freedom. In the You of YouTube. In the grapes, sweet and sour. In the choice between right and right. In the reality of fiction. In the eyes of an imaginary child. In the letter one wrote to no one.” She gently stroked her earrings.

“Hope, you ask? I find. In the answers not found. In the slow haste. In the misfits. In the rejections. In the brushed-away words. In the celebration of acceptance. In the paradoxes. In the toothless smile. In the borrowed law. In the doting parent one can’t ever be.” She leaned forward.

“Hope, I tell you. I find. In the faith that humanity is still within our budget.”

She knows how to get under the skin.

“Any more questions?” She grinned. Ready for her dinner date with a lawyer much younger than her.

My eyes were feasting on her aesthetically designed home. Small libraries divided the cavernous hall into six blocks.

“Is reading or writing your favorite habit?” I got up, ready to leave.

“Neither. Running. I started running when I was 11. I wouldn’t have known the joy of getting into a flow had it not been for running.” She tapped on her knees.

The quintessential question—“Any advice for those who are trying to crack the secret of productivity?” I had to ask.

“Flow.” That vehemence in her response.

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Empathy and Compassion Fiction Relationships

Diary of an Empath

Diary of an Empath

February 15, 2020

August 25, 2017, 9:15 PM. | The Joy

It has been exactly one month since I have landed in Kolkata for the first time. How sweaty and nervous was I on that day! But in no time, the humidity outside the airport muted on the backdrop of a warm feeling when cigarette-smelling cabbies addressed me as Dada. Gradually, the nervousness slowed to an indescribable feeling as I started experiencing the culture, the language, the cuisine, and the joy of the City of Joy.

It was, indeed, a fresh beginning.

When you are a stranger to a city, you feel free of the tiring responsibilities of loving or hating the typical attributes of a place. You tend to observe the locals’ behaviour closely, as to learn from and to adapt to their way of living life. It is intriguing how you find newness in the same old things simply because you now choose to pay attention.

In the last one month, the city has become a love-and-hate friend. The knowns of the different cities I have lived in so far have effortlessly blended with the unknowns of the cultural capital of India.

On a different note, I need someone to talk to when I return home. Should I get married?

September 20, 2017, 11:30 PM. | The Discovery

Recently, I made a friend while sharing a boring cab ride to office. Rishabh Kankaria, a Chartered Accountant, initiated the conversation and welcomed me to Kolkata. My eagerness to learn more about the city, the forgivable distance between our workplaces, and coinciding work hours led to frequent interactions between us.

It was one of those usual meetings that taught me a crucial lesson in life. That fine day, we met after office and were looking for a restaurant to rescue ourselves from starvation. As staunch vegetarians, both of us preferred a vegetarian-only restaurant but couldn’t find one nearby. We traced one multi-cuisine restaurant and my undeniable hunger prompted me to go for it. Rishabh was reluctant. In a self-satisfied tone, he pointed out that the food wasn’t worth a penny.

So, we spent time searching for another restaurant, but were equally unsuccessful. Finally, I decided to revisit our first choice. To my utter surprise, Rishabh politely refused to join me and left for home hungry!

On my way back home, I was lost in my curiosity. Why did Rishabh decide to stay hungry and not eat there? Because it wasn’t a veg-only restaurant? A tad expensive? Bad quality of food? Bad service?

The quality was good and majority of the online reviews suggested the same. It wasn’t expensive either. Given how relative in nature such factors are, I wanted to understand Rishabh’s perspective. From the next day, I started observing Rishabh’s actions whenever we met.

My analytical mind raced fast and figured out the following: Rishabh wouldn’t spend unnecessarily; he would eat in non-vegetarian restaurants only if left with no other choice; and he wouldn’t mind spending for poor-quality food in a hygienic and quality place.

I was confused. It was merely one restaurant that Rishabh had an issue with. Maybe a bad experience? But, he wouldn’t speak. I started observing him closely; rather, I started living his life. Rishabh was an introvert; he was specific about timing, cleanliness, and dressing. He wouldn’t cook as the process required time and involved the deadly task of cleaning; he would leave pretty early for office to beat the traffic. Above all, he was rigid about his food habits; he wouldn’t share his food with anyone. He would avoid dining with a non-vegetarian, particularly when sharing a table with the individual is optional.

His food habits caught my undivided attention. The next time we dined together, I started recollecting how I had despised the idea of plate-sharing in hostels, and how the thought of a brownish-white piece of a non-veg something on my plate had often terrorized me to an uncomfortable silence. Rishabh seemed to strike a chord with the tale and narrated one of his own: a bad day, when a simple order for a plate of Veg-Fried Rice and Gobi Manchurian turned out to be a Veg-Fried Rice and Gobi-with-a-piece-of-chicken Manchurian.

“Trust me, they looked the same; it’s difficult to tell unless you take a bite.” Rishabh was sincere.

The six-year-old experience at a plush restaurant had changed his outlook toward a chain of restaurants forever, I sensed.

That day, I discovered Empathy.

Turns out, I am an empath. Which is why I need to empathize with myself first and take care of my needs. I should get married.

May 14, 2018, 7:28 PM. | The Doctor

Rishabh suffered a medical condition. Though a firm believer in the power of Google, I advised him against searching for a cure online and asked him to go to a clinic to consult a real doctor. The internet-bred doctor within me pinned the condition on work pressure and mental stress and he expectedly endorsed my thought. We were not imbeciles to embrace the idea of self-medication though. So, we left it to the professionals to ascertain. I accompanied him to multiple clinics in the city as we discerned a pattern: a set of questions were asked frequently—current job, daily routine, personal issues, diet, habits, and past occurrences.

This was similar to a traditional market survey that is conducted by firms to understand the issues and needs before introducing a new product or a service. The doctors analyzed the available information and arrived at the problem-definition, which varied from one doctor to another. The proposed solution included tests and medicine for the thus-defined problem.

The clock ticked in time but there was not enough improvement. The recommendations seemed ineffective. My friend, an unsatisfied client, had to look for other options.

He apprised me of his appointment with his family doctor, his trusted counsellor, who had just returned from a family vacation in Pondicherry. We reached before time and waited patiently for our turn. What followed remains a refreshing episode even today. I witnessed the true strength of a trusted relationship. I must admit that I envied the fact that the doctor knew more about my friend than I did. Dr Chatterjee opened a file that read “Patient History,” and for the next 30 minutes or so, he was absorbed in listening to the stories that were documented. My ears grew taller and more curious with each story, as they hinted at the fact that I didn’t know my friend well enough. I discovered how Rishabh had lost his parents in an accident seven years back and, more importantly, how the incident affected his mental health.

Rishabh’s nervousness peaked as his trembling hands reached out for a piece of paper from the doctor. The paper listed guidelines and general instructions, apart from medicine, to be followed. With every line, my hands sensed the need to comfort my friend, but the doctor beat me to it. The doctor’s comforting smile and kind words manifested assurance and we left the clinic on a highly positive note.

And yes, it worked! Dr Chatterjee did not come up with any innovative solution or creative ideas but still he managed to do something that comes under the realm of “beyond the obvious.”

The doctor empathized. He assimilated the information and defined the problem accurately, and he suggested the best option considering the not-so-obvious factors.

Primarily, a wrong treatment is a result of fallacious understanding of the root cause. Product failures or failed marketing strategies are no different. Any innovative product or service or any creative strategy that doesn’t cater to the true needs of the people is futile. Whereas, these things, when done right, prove to be the differentiator.

Amma is happy after I expressed my need to get married. She is the most empathetic person ever. All mothers are. Now, she is blasting my WhatsApp inbox with photos of girls. I feel embarrassed as I don’t know how to reply to her. But some of the girls are really attractive. Love you, Amma.

September 6, 2018, 10:15 PM. | The Pride

My boss, Tirthankar Sir, was so happy today. He is essentially a happy man, but today his happiness felt `a little different as the Supreme Court of India read down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. Maybe, he was crying when he was smiling. I couldn’t figure out.

Since I joined the firm, I have seen him advocating LGBTQIA rights in some way or the other. I remember one instance when he spoke about lineage. That members of the LGBTQIA community don’t come from LGBTQIA families. That often their own family members can’t empathize with them, resulting in a difficult loneliness and a sense of not belonging. The message hit me hard.

I researched a bit on the Internet and discovered how unfair we have been toward the LGBTQIA community. A while ago, I have discussed Pride with Amma. Whatever she told me made me realize that we don’t really understand love as much we understand the idea of love. After all, she is a brilliant psychologist.

Tomorrow, I will give Abhay a call and apologize to him for making fun of him in school. An apology, I know, isn’t good enough but certainly a good place to start.

February 2, 2019, 1:30 AM. | The Grandma

I have not been able to sleep. Talking to Kavyanjali makes me happy. She is beautiful and compassionate. It is because of her insistence that I am jogging every day.

Last evening, I was strolling in the park after a tiring day at work. Few kids were playing football in the vicinity. One of the kids, by the name Messi (yes, Kolkata has a lot of Messi fans), got into the character of the name he was carrying on his jersey and kicked the ball trying to replicate his idol’s shot; the ball landed next door, much to the exasperation of an old lady who lives there.

That moment took me back to my times as a notorious kid—dreaming to become the next sporting legend—who had bothered everyone in the locality. But there were people who would interfere with our play, too. Thavaseelan’s grandmother, who lived next door, would annoy us by playing loud music on her old CRT TV, which became a subject of serious concern to us. Much to our delight, his brother, Karthik, who had got a new job, was planning to gift her a 32-inch Plasma TV. Fortunately, this plan was given the needed impetus by the amazing discounts available and the new TV was delivered within a week. We witnessed the moment when she was informed about the gift. She smiled but her peaceful wrinkles told a different story. It was the first TV Thava’s grandfather had purchased and the apparently dull colours rendered a high definition image of her life. Karthik realized that it wasn’t the right gift for her, and that day, my outlook toward marketing changed.

We are emotionally attached to a few of our products, but I was surprised to know the extent to which our attachment impacts our buying decisions. I realized empathy is easy to understand but requires a great deal of patience and perseverance to apply. We are oblivious to the fact that we fail to empathize even with people close to us and with those we have known for years.

People seldom express their subconscious emotions. It requires deep observation of their behaviour and closely living their lives to understand the story behind their decisions. It isn’t just the story of one old lady but the story of your life, too.

I know Kavyanjali wants me to discuss sex. But I am too shy to even utter the three magical words. I should start sexting.

September 8, 2019, 7:00 AM. | The Companion

The long day at work exhausted Neha. She was stressed and hungry. She turned to the most used App on her phone: her dinner companion. It was another day of enjoying the deep discounts on her favourite food items. “Thank you, saviour,” she murmured. Things were about to change though.

The 45-minute waiting time seemed unbearable. Out of options, Neha decided to take the long route to the common food court inside the premises. Little did she know that this long walk would become a routine, and that the stranger she would bump into will become her best friend. It was the beginning of a new relationship.

It was also the end of another relationship. The discounts got seductively tempting in a bid to revive the relationship, but the App was unaware that Neha had found her new dinner companion.

Last night, I heard the story in the most animated way from her now-husband, Prakash, who is about to publish his first novel. We celebrated their first anniversary at the same food court. The owner of the food court, Mr Aman Nahata, surprised the couple by offering a 30 percent discount on the overall bill.

After returning home, I told the story with more enthusiasm to Kavyanjali. We are getting married in a week. Yay!

January 21, 2020, 11:17 PM. | The Change

Things have changed. Kavyanjali is not well. She is finding it difficult to deal with the winter in Kolkata. Chennai, where she grew up, is in most ways unlike Kolkata. I am looking for new opportunities. We are planning to relocate to Vellore. Besides, Amma is not keeping well; she wants me to be with her.

I have started working on my resume to strengthen my candidacy. My target is to work in the field of Design Thinking, given my personality and the projects I have worked on in the last two years.

“Saved time, money, and efforts by creating a social media post inviting 5000+ highly valued current customers at once to an important product launch event,” read one of the points on my resume, under the header Initiatives. The evident glow on my face would reflect unadulterated pride.

Last night, I was chatting with Amma on WhatsApp when I received a message from Anuj Sachdeva, one of my close friends from college days. It was his marriage invitation: “Please consider this as my personal invitation. Do attend.”

The words left me misty-eyed. I thought he valued me. It took me long to get over the message. As I pen down this line, my resume has one point less under the header Initiatives.

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Empathy and Compassion Fiction Relationships Uncategorized

Empathy Credited

Empathy Credited

January 30, 2020

It was the last working day of July 2019. The joyous clause “salary credited” flashed on the cracked screen of David’s three-year-old Samsung Galaxy J5 phone. His eyes lit up.

Another message popped up on the screen—“Unbelievable offers on mobile phones!”

A curious, excited David clicked on the message. “Exchange your old device for a new one and get up to 50 percent discount!”

He paused. He smiled.

David deleted the message and affectionately wiped the cracked screen. He then flipped his phone to read a handwritten note at the back.

With love,
Your brother

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