The things that matter

It was a long back, almost around the time I had joined. I was just getting to know the people and the ways of EZV. In a new crowd, I am not usually the first person to go say hello. I prefer to wait, I take my time to make friends. I have been told that this may not be the best, especially at the workplace. After all, being extroverted is so hyped in my opinion. I haven’t tried to change myself; I am comfortable the way I am.

He was one of the most popular people at work.  From what I understood, he was fairly good at what he did. Though I did not have too many opportunities to interact with him, from the few conversations, I could sense that he was sharp and possessed a quick wit. Clearly, he was an asset to the company. All this, is of course, from my memory, which as I may have earlier mentioned, isn’t something I am proud of.

And then one day, he quit. Just like that. Like many others, I was shocked, to say the least. How do you weigh people? What yardstick do business use to determine if people are valuable or not? This has been a question that I have mulled over, several times, in the past. I learnt later, that he was in fact fired by the management. The reason? It was something to do with his integrity. I remember how Chitra was visibly upset, when she shared the news with some of us. What upset her, was not so much this incident itself, but the fact that an EZVian turned out to be so. Hadn’t we tried to nurture people with the highest values? Did we not want to reflect the things that we stood for? Where had we failed? These were some of the questions that troubled Chitra back then.

Back then, I hadn’t fully realised the gravity of the matter. I didn’t fully appreciate why Chitra may have been so upset with the way things turned out. Over time, it strikes me – like they say, attitude is everything. And at EZV, we have stuck with this tenet. Those who, for some reason, are not able to perform but possess the right attitude, are given the longest rope. Apart from time for them to learn & grow, they are given immense support to help them in their jobs. On the other hand, someone may be the most talented. Yet, if his/her attitude is poor, they have no place in EZV. Not only is this practiced, but communicated to everyone – loud and clear. As simple as it might sound, it isn’t the easiest to practice it. In fact, so much importance is given to this aspect that over time, we have tried to articulate what we mean by these ‘softer aspects’. We have articulated, revisited and refined (and continue to do so), a document called ECD – EZV Common Denominator. It is a set of qualities that we think are most important. As it says in the document itself, it is at once, what we are and what we aspire to be. It is an attempt to define our culture, as manifested in our people.

I am grateful in EZV, for showing me the way – for what I can be. I am grateful to EZV, for valuing the right kind of things in people. I am grateful to EZV, for choosing the path that is tougher, but a lot more gratifying.


How it all started

What do you make out, when you hear that someone has their ‘heart in the right place’? When I heard it, I did not think much of it back then.

I was then teaching at a school, part-time, for a monthly salary of INR 5000. It wasn’t enough, especially considering my lifestyle would include certain luxuries, but then how much ever is I have wondered! I found a kind-hearted schoolmate who would accommodate me in his dwelling, so the major expense of rent was saved. I quite enjoyed teaching, except that it required me to be tremendously patient – a virtue that I did not possess. However, it was still a contractual job and by the end of the academic year, I was asked if I wanted to continue. I had no idea; it wasn’t like I had many options to choose from.

One day, I received a very brief email from a cousin working with Wipro. It was about Wipro looking to hire a person. ‘Are you interested in working on school education?’ it said. Or some such thing. It was very brief in any case. I shot off an email which said that I was indeed interested; I had nothing to lose. In a few days, I received a response, requesting for an application to be filled out. It was a mundane application form, but quite unlike all other mundane application forms, at least in parts! Following this, a few days later, I received a mail requesting for a telephonic chat. That turned out to be anything but mundane and it piqued my curiosity. I was finally invited for an interview, which I did attend. One thing that struck me about this entire experience was that these were good people to work with. I was hoping I’d get through, though during the interview itself, I realised that some of the others who had turned up were much more experienced, older and more educated that I was. This, I had noticed, not without some trepidation.

A few weeks later, I received a call from one of the people who had interviewed me. I was told that I wasn’t selected. There was the customary wishing and thanking that came with it, but the facts looked pretty plain. Just as I thought he was going to hang up, he offered something more to say. “Would you be interested in exploring opportunities with this outfit called EZ Vidya? They are based out of Chennai. I don’t know if they have requirements right now, but they are good people to work for. I know Chitra, who runs it, personally, and I think she has her heart in the right place”, he added. I had no reason to refuse. Very soon, he very kindly sent out an email introducing me to EZV, following which EZV was kind enough to offer me a job.

Looking back, I am grateful to that gentleman. However, I am also grateful to EZV, for being associated with Wipro in the first place, but also making a mark in that relationship. It is this impression that EZV had left on its partner, which doubtless led to my interviewer thinking of EZV in the context of my interview with him. Most importantly, I am grateful to EZV for hiring me 10 years ago.

Taking responsibility

For the longest time now, I’ve been asked to interview people who apply with us. Invariably, the first conversation would end up being with me, unless it is clear that the person has applied for a very specific position. I tell people, in jest, that perhaps I am the most jobless person in EZV.
I remember this once when I had had a chat with Chitra about a candidate and asked for her opinion. I didn’t much of an opinion. What I did get was some questions, about the candidate and the possible role that I had in mind for him and so on. I thought about it, posed further questions and we perhaps ran out of time just then. Later, it struck me that we hadn’t really arrived at a decision and so I mailed her, presuming she needed a reminder. I received a prompt response asking me what I had thought of the candidate. I was mildly annoyed, because I do remember giving a detailed update in person.
Nevertheless, I wrote down a detailed mail, giving the pros and cons once again. I was hoping that I’d get some help deciding and so ensure it was a fairly detailed, and as unbiased an account as possible. Yet again, I received a prompt response. This time, it simply said, “I thought I had shared my thoughts. Go ahead and take a call.”
Now I was a little more than mildly annoyed and all set to shoot another email. “I needed help after all, was that so difficult to understand?”, I thought to myself. As I was writing this mail, it struck me that inadvertently, I may have been evading making a decision. And that’s precisely what I was being pushed for – to decide, and to stand by the decision. Very often, we find people who simply want to let others take the decision. It is after all, quite safe to play it that way.
I am grateful to EZV, that I have been pushed to take decisions and be responsible for them. I am even more grateful to EZV, for standing by me and my decisions, even when I have gone terribly wrong.

Life as an adventure

“Do you still make such adventurous trips?”, he asked. I had just narrated to a colleague how I once ended up in Shirdi without much of a plan, with not even a pair of clothes to change into. I did not bother to clarify what he meant by that. I wondered what the import of his question was. Perhaps he meant that I had mellowed down over time.

During the initial days at EZV, I had a once to make a trip to Kochi. It was for a workshop, to kickoff an engagement with what is now a big and very popular organisation. Everything was set, we had prepared fairly well, and for a change, I was well in time to catch my train. I can not remember now, but there was some goof up with the tickets – either they simply weren’t confirmed or we had got them booked for the wrong date or some such thing. Essentially, the TTE told me that I could not travel on that train. I wasn’t going to take such a verdict sitting down. Back then, I don’t remember if flying was so common that it may have occurred as an option. Evidently not, for I boarded the general compartment, which was packed. I found enough place right next to the door, to stand, with my bag placed overhead. There were a bunch of college kids who would want me to go inside, but I wouldn’t oblige. I made the 12-odd hours of the journey, standing right there, and I completed my work the following day too. When I hit the sack the following night, it had never felt better.

There seems to be the adventurist, throbbing with life, deep within me. He may have mellowed, as my colleague I described above seemed to imply, but he refuses to die completely, and perhaps never would. For this person, adventure is a deeply satisfying aspect of life. And part of it lies in the surprises that life has to throw. Some of us choose to embrace these surprises, and seek adventure in them. So, when one year after another passed for me, in EZV, some of my closes friends and family members, including my father, were surprised. Perhaps, rightfully so, for they knew this part of me that seeks thrills and therefore must keep moving on.

It is past midnight now. I sit in the waiting room of a railway station, having traveled from one town to another, waiting to get to yet another. And as I do, I reminisce, that what neither they, nor indeed I had expected, was in the manner in which these thrills were to be found. The work trip mentioned above, is one of the many trips I had made on work. The aspect of travel, which I had earlier written about, is itself perhaps just one aspect of this adventure.

I read somewhere, a long time ago, that ‘One way to get the most out of life is to look upon it as an adventure‘. It resonates a lot with me, and I suppose it is this part of me that may never die. I am grateful to EZV, for the varied pursuits that it has afforded me. Indeed I am grateful because my fortunate association with the organisation itself has been an adventure; it has been one hell of a ride. And, I can’t wait for more to come, at EZV and beyond, for as long as I breathe, everyday shall be lived as an adventure. Now, if the reader will excuse me, I am off to board the train & experience the adventures that await me with another group of teachers, tomorrow.

All the many things

I remember one of my first adventures at EZV was a trip here. I chose to ride the distance, though I recall the duration of the ride turned out to be more than I had anticipated. Back then, I used to ride my motorcycle a lot and this was yet another opportunity. I paid a quick visit to an ancient temple in the vicinity as well. However, it is not only for these reasons that I remember that day. It was my first official ‘sales call’, all by myself. I had never imagined myself selling anything before that day.

Back then, ‘Chrysalis ICT’ was our mainstay. For some reason, I was asked to go to this particular school and make a sales presentation, which I did. I felt on that day, that I had done a fairly good job. It is another matter that I couldn’t clinch the deal. I wasn’t just allowed to go for the call though. We had a mock sales presentation at office, when one of our colleagues was asked to play the Management Representative of an imaginary school and I had to ‘pitch’ to him. This person was known for his histrionics and I remember him going overboard, that I struggled to keep a straight face and do my job. After all, Chitra was watching! Looking back now, I can’t believe the kind of time we may have had on our hands to go through such a thing!

This was but one example. I have had to work on numerous other things that I wasn’t ‘meant’ to work on. For instance, I remember doing Quality Checks for several content objects, particularly audio-visuals, perhaps some ten years back. I was told that I possessed an eye for detail back then, which was quite a surprise to me. All these experiences were significant learning experiences for me. Equally importantly, the experience in itself was of value. Each activity allowed me to enjoy a certain unique experience irrespective of what I learned out of it.

I see now how we try to allow people to try their hand at different things for just these reasons. Now, of course, things are a lot different and as we scale, we may not have the luxury that some of us had back then. Yet, this aspect is slowly becoming a part of the system, so that we consciously allow people such experiences as best as we can afford. I am sure that this inherent variety in work, the associated challenges, the richness in varied experiences and the learning thereof are significant perks at work. And I am grateful to EZV for these invaluable experiences.

You did it

My father and I share an interesting relationship. As a child, I do not remember much of him, except for his stern looks when I would do something that I wasn’t supposed to. Given the number of times I was guilty of that, I am not surprised about the stern look as a predominant memory. As I grew up, things got even more difficult. I was turning out to be the problem child. While the things I was interested in changed with time, the one constant was my strong affinity to indulge in activities that put him off. Be it staying up late at night or watching one movie too many, not coming home during the semester breaks or just binge drinking, I found just about every way to displease him. It continues even as an adult, be it the divorce or more recently, my refusing to participate in a family vacation. The only difference is that he seems to have found ways not to react.

Another and related memory for me is that he wouldn’t appreciate me. “Don’t be too proud”, and “You can do better than that”, are two messages that I would receive from him time and again. The latter being well deserved, and the former, more a cautionary note. I sometimes think that he may have held the belief that appreciating his children would put them at the risk of becoming vain. Perhaps it is culturally influenced, and as a grown up, I look back and I am able to understand him very well. I am also grateful to him & my mother for bringing me up the way they did. I ought to write more about them, I remind myself.

So, when six months into my stint at EZV, I got an unprecedented raise in my salary, the first thing I wanted to do was to let my father know. It was unprecedented, because it was done exclusively for me, before my completing a year, which is when these things happen. And I remember some people telling me that it had never happened before. I was of course excited, and perhaps mildly surprised at myself. However, I made a request to Chitra – that while I was grateful, the raise itself wasn’t so important for me. I requested her for a letter of appreciation, and she readily obliged. The only reason that I had wanted it was to show it to my father.

It has been ten years now, and it is now time for me to be doing the appreciation. With several young, energetic and committed people giving it their all, I sometimes rue at my inability to be so generous with praise. Partly, it is because I am just not mindful of the fundamental need that most people have – a pat on the back. However, I also think I may be a tough taskmaster, and my benchmarks are usually high, sometimes perhaps unreasonably so. This is only with me, of course. Chitra still is the one to quickly recognise promise, and acknowledge it publicly, even though her own benchmarks are no less. Over time, it has become a part of EZV itself. I am grateful to be working in an organisation that is quick & generous to acknowledge and even reward contributions from people. While it in itself is a wonderful thing, I am also grateful that it reminds me of what I ought to do better – be less grudging and more generous with praise.


I had picked him up at an important junction, near one of the exits to the city. I tend to do it, sometimes when I am driving alone. If someone asks for a ride, more often than not, I oblige. After all, I usually have the car all to myself. While on most days, I quite enjoy it, sometimes, I feel guilty about it as well. Today, it was quite early in the morning and it was just him, apart from a family at the junction. This time around, I did not wait for anyone to ask. I just the car in front of this gentleman, rolled down the window and asked him if he wanted a ride to Pondicherry. The family was larger than my car could accommodate so neither they nor I bothered.

The man I had picked up started speaking, we made small talk. I warned him that I may drive fast, and requested him to fasten his seatbelt. He wondered if it was mandatory as per the law. I told him that I wasn’t sure of that, but that he could consider it mandatory, if he wanted a ride. He just smiled and obliged. We made small talk, got to know a bit about each other. He was visiting someone over the weekend, and was curious about the place.

“I work in software”, he said, and added the name of a well known company. I hadn’t even asked him. He was a young chap, perhaps fresh in his job and was evidently enthusiastic to tell me. I did not venture to ask him what he meant by software. Partly, I wasn’t keen on knowing, but it is also about the nature of his work itself. I don’t understand much of it, apart from the fact that they write programmes to do things for other business establishments.

Even as I knew where the conversation was headed, it was his turn to ask me what the nature of my work was. For the longest time, I have shared with my colleagues that it takes some effort to explain what we do to people who may not be aware of the happenings in the domain of school education. So when people ask me, my response would depend on the situation. Sometimes, it is the end of the day and I am on a bus or a train and too tired to make conversation. Or, I may just be hard pressed for time. At other times, I can simply be moody and uninterested in pursuing the conversation. On such occasions, I try to keep it simple and say that I am a teacher or a publisher.

However, on many other occasions, it provides meat to speak about things. Interestingly, a lot of people are able to immediately relate to the work we do. After all, several of them went to school themselves, and are able to look back at the shallowness of the experience. Either that or for many, it was simply harrowing to be able to get through it all. Ask people what they liked about the school, and it is usually about friends, sports or other so called ‘extra-curricular’ activities. Learning itself is seldom perceived as fun, as an innately desirable pursuit. And so there is immediate agreement on the need for such work. Some of them even end up volunteering to help, and wonder if they could get involved in some way.

I am grateful to EZV that it allows me to speak about my work very proudly. Not only this, it has been the context for several great conversations during my sojourns across this country, the reason for which has also been my work. Thank you, EZV.