Wouldn’t be where I am today without the women leader who shaped my life.
Some people grow on you — ever so gradually. You have to grow up to grasp that — some day. Did I? I leave you with that decision.
It was the summer of 2005. My 77 year old aunt (my dad’s eldest sister) and her husband were visiting Houston. My wife and I wanted to host them for a few days during their visit. We called my mom in India and asked, “Any advice?”
I was half expecting — make them feel at home, show them around, cook some of their comfort foods, and offer them their favorite fruits etc.
My mom shared none of the generalities.
Instead, she said, “make it a point to walk them through the location of all snacks in the kitchen.” And I am glad, we did. I can recall the trademark wisp of a smile on my aunt’s face- something all my dad’s sisters share. Seeing that made me happy — then.
As I ruminate over it now, I understand the subtlety in my mom’s specificity. When we indulge a guest — we are pushing our version of a great host so that we feel good about ourselves. My mom’s approach suggested otherwise — draw them into our circle of space through our most thoughtful acts. More importantly, let them enter the space at their own pace when you are not there.
The invisible shackles that great host miss and fantastic ones see.
Breaking those unseen but often felt barriers does something to people — it creates rapport. And great, long lasting relationships begin — both in business and life.
Steve Jobs and his geeky crew hated that they have to charge the battery after unwrapping any electronic gift. The wait was excruciating. Their products always came pre-charged for the enthusiastic customer.
Like their talents, I marveled at my mom’s ability to be laser focused on tiny tweaks that connects with others in sublime ways.
Yet, I did not grasp a bigger picture of my dad’s words- “if you [my mom] had a chance to complete a degree, you would have never married me.” He would say it with pride and reverence to an equal — in his trademark smile. During all those growing up years, I heard him say that many times, in context. She would mirror his effervescent smile every time — not a word back, ever.
Now, I may know.
The harder uphill climb for me –something my mom belts out intuitively.
Connecting two unrelated dots is a tall order on its own merit. There is something harder than that.
During a recent flight, I was flipping through the last few pages of an inflight magazine. Something caught my eye — the world map with a maze of crisscrossing routes connecting cities. The maze was akin to the wandering thoughts in my mind. Any numbers of permutations of connections are possible between all the dots. The geek in me can venture to seek an algorithmic solution for most lucrative paths with high returns — if I had the wisdom to know the value of the paths.
What about looking for dots that I failed to see? And picking the off-beat path unknown to most of us — intuitively. It is obvious only when my mom reveals it to me.
Here is a classic — worth your time.
It is one thing to dwell on hosting my aunt and a whole another to orchestrate a wedding. The complexity grows manifold.
A few weeks before my sibling’s wedding in 2011, the parents from the other side were visiting her. The wedding was planned in their city of residence. Out of their regard for her, they asked, “every parent has a dream for their child’s wedding, is there any we can help fulfill as hosts?” I was in the same room as her. Boom, she plucked one thought and doled it out instinctively. I did not see that coming.
Her words echo, “We will enjoy the wedding as planned through your dreams. At the marriage hall, my request is for sufficient blankets and drinking water near rooms.”
South Indian weddings, both sides of extended families stay at the large marriage halls. The rooms are traditionally spartan resting places to experience the wedding merriment in close quarters.
In the grand scheme of weddings, the smallest off-beat detail is a wow.
And the best part, after she picked up the one offbeat suggestion that is significantly impactful, she zips up.
And I find that — incredibly hard. Especially as a parent when my young daughters seek my counsel.
If I say the obvious ones — I do not trust them enough to figure it out. If I come up with a list — I have diluted my impact with trivial many. If I can whip up the best one — oh well, that is the wisdom of delighting your children with the essence. Easier said than done.
The closest I came to that, in self-deprecating humor, is imitation. Few years ago, marketing team [at work] was planning a sports event for customers. Lot of ideas were thrown in to enthrall the customers. My suggestion, “bottled water — not too cold, not too warm, just right.” It made it to the delight list.
Essence of her — through her son’s eyes
There are two levels of you in Tamil language– neenga (you — said with reverence for elders) and nee (you — shared with youngsters). There is third one — in casual tone used for someone larger than ourselves. In that tone, I want to share — aval appadithan. She is only like that. She is different. In her presence, I feel an immersive aura of a fairytale. Pixie dust of wisdom sprinkled around that I love to cling on to — as much as I can.
Before her wedding, in her native village in Cauvery delta, my mom painted on white cloth. She neatly folded her art and tucked them away. After her wedding, my dad’s dad took one look at them, saw the artist in her and took the time to frame those paintings. When you rang the bell at his house, through the grilled gate, you could see her painting in the living room. He proudly adorned her paintings in your line of sight as you entered his home.
My granddad did it then, today it is my turn.
Every parent dreams to hear great things about their kids. More so, from the people they respect. Here is a dream with a different flavor of delight. I am one of the privileged few to read aloud to my amma [yes, that is how I call her] — a story of her own gift as seen through the eyes of her child.
Fits majestically to the persona of my amma- an original, a standout who is blissfully unaware of her own, intuitive gift — a gift of leadership that shapes my life — everyday.