Sustaining Volunteering-Dispassionate Attachment

Once again this is a collection of my tweets in a fairly verbose manner since this doesn’t have limtations of number of characters like on Twitter

सक्ता: कर्मण्यविद्वांसो यथा कुर्वन्ति भारत |
कुर्याद्विद्वांस्तथासक्तश्चिकीर्षुर्लोकसंग्रहम् ||

saktāḥ karmaṇyavidvānso yathā kurvanti bhārata
kuryād vidvāns tathāsaktaśh chikīrṣhur loka-saṅgraham
Bhagavad Gita 3:25

As ignorant people perform their duties with attachment to the results, O scion of Bharat, so should the wise act without attachment, for the sake of leading people on the right path
Source of translation :

In context of Volunteering for the Fight against Covid19 Pandemic, what was initially thought as a short term battle, got extended wave after wave and as I write this we are already at the end of Year 2 and battling the 3rd wave (thankfully not so harsh like the 2nd wave). Original mobilisation was for just 2 months and it never seem to get over.

In an online talk to a collection of Civil Society, where I suggested a free-flowing Q&A model instead of a Lecture and then follow up questions. The first question I received was a interesting one. The participant wanted me to describe in a phrase (don’t know why this limit)- what can prevent Volunteering Fatigue, that would be natural due to unexpected extension of time devoted to a passionate cause, as against paid volunteering – My answer phrase was “Disapassionate Attachment” which is the essence of that particular verse from Srimad Bhagavad Gita. Everything else is subordinated to the Cause.

More often than not, especially in the current round of Volunteering, Young, energetic and passionate volunteers never needed any motivation as they are already inspired and self-fired. But those get fatigued are those who want to deliver perfection and fail.

न बुद्धिभेदं जनयेदज्ञानां कर्मसङ्गिनाम् |
जोषयेत्सर्वकर्माणि विद्वान्युक्त: समाचरन्

na buddhi-bhedaṁ janayed ajñānāṁ karma-saṅginām
joṣhayet sarva-karmāṇi vidvān yuktaḥ samācharan
Bhagavad Gita 3:25

The wise should not create discord in the intellects of ignorant people, who are attached to fruitive actions, by inducing them to stop work. Rather, by performing their duties in an enlightened manner, they should inspire the ignorant also to do their prescribed duties.

Whenever these inspirational gems talk to me about how to avoid failure in the task – I only request them not to aim for delivering perfect service, but aim to deliver acceptable service. Because what the beneficiary needs simply is unpredictable (COVID19 context)

Not all our stories ended up like in a fairy tale – but consolation is that it was not due to lack of effort. Not to let one setback paralyse because we then are letting down so many others waiting. Agreed we are not machines, but there is no choice but to move on.

Working in various verticals of my current efforts, establishing the basic framework and hand it over to the successor who can definitely do a better job than us to innovate and grow the vertical better to serve more people. Here, a mistake most leaders commit has to be discussed. Their inability to let go and trust the successor to do it better (there could be other reasons, but keeping it positive). Since it was conceptualised and executed first time by me, I always feel no one else can do that task as well as me (leave alone better). More often than not, a good capable leader is lost in the process because he/she is not available for any other task and occupied in something so mundane or routine by now, that anyone else could have done. As Chandan, one of the volunteers said, Once you weather the storm, leave it to someone to manage in calm waters. I have found some of them get fatigued in this situation. They assume they are in control of everything and get mentally tormented that in reality they are not in control of that situation. Fight against COVID19 was a cascading situation of this nature, even today. Letting go is an important achievement when you are in dispassionate attachment and helps avoid volunteering fatigue

I draw from my personal experience when I adopted this practice. Withdraw from the vertical once the assigned role of establishing framework is over (Dispassionate Attachment). In almost each Veriticals, my successor grew it in unimaginable scale (to be honest, I could not have done it at all)

The last round of volunteering was totally different model and found it was more enchanting. Zero Budget operation, Amorphous bunch of citizens coming together for a single cause – BeatTheVirus & slogan being WeWillWin, it came with horde of challenges. Navigating through unfriendly official system to deliver using the same system. Being amorphous itself brought some amount of unpredictability, with no formal organisation structure, one that emerged on its own during the course of operation (Swayambhu in action) and various pushes and pulls in different directions. But in the end DELIVERED

During the horrendous 2nd wave, it may not have ended well for some families but visible gratitude of people whom we touched, only reinforced the feeling that they did not give up on the world. When they say, Thanks for being besides us & making us realise not everything in this world is bad. It was personally very different this time. Losses were kind of certain – lost many of them known to me very well too, we were able to help some who emerged successfully from the havoc to come back and work with us.

With self fired young and enthusiastic Volunteers, only facilitative leadership works and best form in my opinion is Servant leadership. Transactional leadership is sure prescription for disenchantment. Show-how works better than know-how. Officialdom and bureacracy would well take note of the popular saying in QMS context, “Never end up having a system for documentation instead of a documented system”. One big mistake we do in the process of chasing a system it to create so much of documentation, most of them totally avoidable, that instead of working we had a team spending most of the time creating presentations and records. It is not about discipline or credit-chasing (young ones are smart they see it right away), look for method in madness especially in Unpredictable situation.

To add an important thing here- to avoid Volunteering Fatigue, consider Volunteering as a privilege not a favor we do to others. Reason why I had serious apprehensions about using the words like CoronaSainika or CoronaWarriors etc (though I plead guilty of using it many time myself)

In the context, Pujya Gurudev Sri Sri Ravishankar ji in 5 words said – “We Are Not The Doers“. What a lovely way to remain detached while remaining committed to the cause. Designations, hierarchy, results, even the organisation – nothing would matter once in this mode.

Thoughts of a fellow volunteer on org: I think this is the general phase of how it happens. Be it economy or any other thing, there is a phase of really good unselfish work, followed by growth, then peaks and due to vices and ego taking over, the downfall.

Signing off saying, Letting Go is not Giving Up, it is smart way to remain objectively detached (accepting that we are not the Doers) from outcomes, but ensuring there is no lack of effort.

Happy Volunteering

IMTB syndrome – Administrative Bane

Agreed, everyone is busy, but “I am too Busy (IMTB)” is absolute humbug and what in general parlance can be described as Cop-out. It means two things when an issue is brought to your for a solution/ suggestion – “You are not a priority” or “I have no clue about it”. In my experience it is almost always the latter. Fear that the capability (or incapability, to be precise) gets exposed is the culprit for this IMTB syndrome.

The 'Busy' Trap Best Quotes – Fav Quotes | BestQuotes
Yes, this is the message that we need to convey to those pretenders
Pic Courtesy – Web

This is largely a reproduction of a Tweet thread that I had posted a year ago during my efforts volunteering with the Government as a Corona Warrior regarding reasons (in my humble opinion) why our famed Bengaluru Model took a beating. Our war-room and the processes were proudly presented by Mr Luv Aggarwal in his evening briefing pre June 3rd Unlock, when Karnataka and Bengaluru in particular, managed the Pandemic using technology judiciously. The technology implementation during lockdown was studied well by domain experts and the potential pitfalls were highlighted (to add – I had personally given potential numbers if certain measures were not put in place – It so happened my numbers were accurate give or take 10 – Thanks to models developed by Dr Santosh Ansumali and another by Dr Prasanna Simha).

Let me directly reproduce the tweets posted on the IMTB Syndrome

Someone (irrespective of sector) if he is too busy for everything, all the time, it means either he doesn’t know his job or doesn’t know to manage it. I come across so many who hide behind this “I am too busy” from their reportees, from their peers and superiors. If you are a manager find a balance or bosses will have to find some balanced person. In days of mobile phones, you cannot have pagers.

What went wrong with much touted Technical advantage #Bengaluru and #Karnataka has to be discussed sooner than later to save the state and #Bengaluru. #IamTooBusy or #MineIsBest adamance costed us after all the gains we made. With tonnes of experience in IT system/solution architecting, mobile app practice – Both from hands-on development experience too, not just looking over shoulders of developer) architecting was the key fact that did the damage. It cannot be a hobby project when dealing with data especially when we are dealing with Human Lives.

It is not just passion, enthusiasm, hard-working or commitment (of which we never had a dearth, it has a lot to do with Competence too, without which all the others are pointless. (Vice versa is true too. But starting point is COMPETENCE). That is when we, a bunch of enthusiasts conducted a thread bare analysis of some Apps that were used (its tremendous success earlier and its miserable failure once the numbers ramped). Sadly our penchant to investing more to dig shallow wells, instead of one deep productive well, was our bane

News | The O'Meara Lab
Too many Unproductive shallow Wells
Pic Courtesy: Web

There was this particular officer whose #MineIsBiggest adamance is what let go of a multitude of options provided to mankind, free of cost. Why Government has to spend on “Learning Curve” of Private sector was the line. Seriously? On something that is so specific to public health & pandemic & offered for free? When an IAS officer is appointed into the Government services, it is more for his administration skills and much less for any other basic domain skills. If he “was” Engineer it is just incidental and once in service your primarly role is administer, not demonstrate your Engineering skills.

This particular officer had a balloon of an Ego, thought it was passport to so called growth by creating many hobby grade apps – in IT what we commonly refer to as “Hello World” program. We clearly highlighted that the Application Architecture is too rigid and unscalable. It was ok when our numbers were low but unlock expectedly would hike the numbers, contact tracing numbers would jack up, number of cases would increase and so on. Net result, to save his image and adamance that his apps were the best, our City, the IT Capital took a beating both in terms of image and also in terms of public health – Evident in the bulletins released those days – opaque contents and numbers that has spiked. But he was shut to any idea lest his carefully built up image gets shattered – it did shatter but by then City and the State paid a huge cost.

Sincerity and strenuous efforts is no substitute for Competence, which is what this bunch of hard working officers lack. As late as today, solution is not to scale the solution up, but scale the users down. Haalooralli Ulidavane Raaja… goes an old saying in Kannada. We’re no where near haalooru yet. Is it Insecurity when not once, twice, four times you don’t turn up for a meeting to discuss (#IamBusy you know 🙂 without a care for time of people, domain experts whose billable is 40 times > this officer’s. He was out to show who wears the pants in the administration. During a review by Chief Secretary, I did write a note explaining where we went wrong and the remedies there of. Then CS, accepted it and immediately allowed remedial measures and it did not take 3 weeks to get semblance of control again. (Recalling a message I received over Whatsapp – Hey Suresh, you just spiked my husbands growth. My humble reply – I rather spike career growth of one person than risk COVID Spikes)

Here I would contrast it to another officer, also an Engineer but emerged a Superstar in the War against Corona in Karnataka, simply because he just administered, facilitated multitude of domain experts to deliver. Jealous Enemies within carried out a hit job and some wise men thought dividing Bengaluru as per BBMP zones for effective management was a better approach and he was relegated to a particular zone. He performed magic for that zone again and proved, whatever the scale it is about doing a job perfectly and playing his role as required, not to demonstrate his Engineering skills. I have to name and thank this officer on behalf of the state and the City. Thank you Major Manivannan, IAS for being a Friendly Administrator who knew his job extremely well, for being a Facilitator than anything esle and harnessing strength of all available resources (which was scarce). You were the reason why many corporates and NGOs happily joined hands to work with Government. By the way, Major Manivannan was the person who conceptualised the Citizen Corona Warrior (locally called Corona Sainika Program). I was blessed to be associated with the Program as Vice Chairman of Corona Sainikas Task Force handling the state (I was tasked with entire State except BBMP areas) and thereafter as Chief Citizen Coordinator when the Home Quarantine was managed by Citizen Volunteers. But for him, I would not even think of joining this initiative, since working with the existing Public delivery system is very frustrating for someone from Corporate sector. He insulated all the bureacratic challenges from service delivery folks and left free to deliver. Respects to this model Civil Servant.

Would like to recollect contribution of M/s Knowledge Lens to the entire initiative, It was our loss that we could not reach out to them during lockdown (when we had to manage even bigger volunteer pool) and I am sure we would have done even better job with their support. After the unlock, Major Manivannan and me sat down to discuss actions for establishing the Citizen Quarantine Squad (later renamed to make it appear more citizen friendly as Neighbourhood Home Quarantine Watch and Care – NHWC) I still remember how I drove in to Knowledge Lens office in Electronic City and met up with Shri Sudeesh Narayan, Founder and CEO to seek support of two technical Development resources, he dismissed it saying, why two – leave it us, we will develop the entire portal and maintain it – ALL FOR FREE. He r introduced me to Shri Jayesh Sripada Rao (a friend for life now) who then helped us, hand held and in fact became one of the best volunteers himself during the entire battle. I have to admit, it was totally unexpected and Free came with a cream of High Quality Professional outputs. Knowledge Lens’s Mobile practice came in handy to address all the needs of the system. We were able to automate the entire registration process including delivery of ID cards at almost no cost. There was no looking back thereafter. We had lot of partners engaged into the program and smoother delivery inspired even more work from the volunteers in this critical phase. Once again role of Major Manivannan and his support was immense. Sadly, when the zone-wise bifurcation was done, only the zone headed by Major Manivannan used all the apps and results were there for all to see.

What inspired Corona Warriors like me and nearly 40,000 others who were out on the field with support and encouragement of Major Manivannan and then Chief Minister of Karnataka, Shri BS Yediyurappa ji.

Remember when the program started – no one had a clue about what this Virus was all about. But everyone knew what should be the outcome – WE HAD TO WIN – with the App or not

Winding up with a small anecdote – A Senior Bureaucrat asked me (he was trying to understand the psychology of volunteers) “We are duty-bound and paid a salary to do this work, What is in it for you taking all these risks?” My spontaneous answer was (which I strongly believe is what every volunteer thinks and essence of volunteering):


I was told by this officer at the time of retirement, that he had written these lines on a paper and had it below the glass top of his table.

Thank You-from Happiest man alive

With her becoming better and better, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find words to write this tribute piece to the wonderful soul in my life. Like I said earlier, we are not celebrating her Birthday, but her presence in our lives.

To say that she is like that gift that we keep unwrapping every day of our lives – Someone who never stopped giving to all the kids (and Me). The better half whose missionary zeal to make everyone of us even better is something I never stopped admiring

I am truly at loss (otherwise over verbose) to find positive adjectives to prefix to her name, and gave up after a hour. Thought it is better to attach a thesauraus and still find there were more that could be added. That is the value she brings to the huge family – not just maternal or marital but to the huge extended family that we are so fortunate to possess.

All the DaMaKi family was unanimous in their agreement when I said “Thank you for being with us and for just being you” Personally, I am extremely proud and privileged to be a part of, the one who makes me feel like a hero, every single day for the past 43 years that we know each other (Oh yes, it is that long, and it seems like we just met a few years back for the first time).

She is my biggest fan (beesanige alla). The one who instilled all the confidence in me, when in those rare moments I lost belief in myself. I have gone through those moments and thanks to her presence in my life, those moments were so rare. She pushed, prodded along, and never allowed me to quit.

Not sure if I told this earlier but saying this nevertheless, on a trip abroad, a foreigner whom I met on the flight amidst our chat was shocked (mortified in fact) that I have been married for so many years and remain married to the same person. What is so normal in our part of the world is indeed a rarity there. He wanted to know how the journey has been. Humorously I replied (borrowing from someone more experienced) – “Yes indeed, we have been married for 30 SHORT years and it has been happiest 15 years of my life.” I was not kidding, life has not been without challenges. The co-passenger of my life never allowed me to even think it was a phase of trials and tribulations, ups and downs, elation and grief too. She navigated around all the bumps and waves to hold this vessel steady, ensuring that  we never crashed. Prouder moment for me was when he said – “this is what makes India & its tradition so different from other parts of the world” (INDEED). Thank you Aparna. You are the reason I was able to say that with a lot of conviction.

One of the significant achievement  of my life was my ability to convince Aparna to marry me (I should confess on the side that it is one of the best gifts she got *running*

She means a lot not because she is a perfect person but only because she is a perfect Aparna – That is good enough! On this special day, from all of us, a BIG thank you for being what you are. Have a wonderful day (which we are hoping to make) and a super duper year ahead (which we are hoping to make again)

I cannot sign off without a song dedicated to you. This is at the top of my mind today.

Happy Birthday

May the Divine’s and Gurudev Pujya Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar ji’s blessings be showered on you in abundance