What’s in a name?



M. A. Vellodi



About fifty years ago,  I was at the United Nations on a longish assignment.  I was a member of a small group of United Nations diplomats who met very often to discuss  everythimg from  Pol Pot to the Post Adjustment for Ulan Bator that determined the salary of a United Nations official  posted   in Mongolia.


One of our favourite pastimes was at lunch in the United Nations Dining room overlooking the East River, which was at least four time a week. On any given day,  there were at lunch more than seventy-five  Ambassadors and the same  number of  Senior U.N. Staff members and junior diplomats from the Permanent Missions to the U.N. Each one of our little group – we were around six or eight – had to choose any ten diners at tables within hearing distance and guess their nationalities.  Guesses on persons with special garbs like the Sari and some of the Africans and  Arabs fetched lower marks.  Points were allotted during the dessert. The winner and  the runner-up had to foot the bill for all of us.  No one could win or be runnerup more than five times a month. The U.N. staff members and delegates,  who came more in contact with the delegates in the Committee rooms, had their points reduced by 29 %


After I left the UN and the  Indian diplomatic Service this game all but vanished for want of suitable arenas for playing the game. After I got associated with the NGOs and especially after I became a part of The Banyan in 1994, I revived this game but as a  solitaire.  Everytime I met a new staff member or a frequent visitor to The Banyan    those were the happy days when I visited The Banyan thrice a week – I would get to talk to that person and in a space of the self-stipulated ten minutes, would guess her or his State in India. For my State of Kerala   which next to Tamil Nadu probably has the largest representation among the Banyan staff, Trustees and Friends of the Banyan,   I try to  make the guess even at the District level  because the Malayalam accent is very distinct in different Districts,  Trissur being the broadest and Valluvanad (naturally mine ) being the best. I wanted to play this game with the residents but felt that they may not be very comfortable with my Tamil  it being the Chenthamizh of Chilapathikaram vintage.


Recently I made a bloomer.  I told Ranjitha,  our very competent and equally charming newsbreaker, a la Professor Higgins,  that  her family was of Sri Lankan origin. This was way wide off the pitch and as embarrassing as the Aussies’ very unsporting high scores againt us  in recent games.   But this is not stopping my little game  as the Aussies’  scores are  not  worrying our men in Blue. So, watch out when I approach you seemingly  for a document or some data  but in reality  for one of my phonetic exercises.


Status Message: Asking for Trouble

Mohan Ramamoorthy


At Banyan, the IT that rattles everyone is not the income tax variety. It is the Information Technology kind that people keep grumbling about… (at one point, Syed was the most sought after male in TBC…)

Suddenly, Microsoft was thrown out, and with it went the outlook mail… (mails in many accounts were never rehabilitated…!) and in came google apps and the professional initiation by none other than the irrepressible Vaishnavi…

Lotsa things happened – many of them embarassing unmentionables which cannot be recorded for posterity in this blog…

But never-say-die in-house IT guru sent this mail (with some great insights into human behaviour – see point 4)…

Please follow these practices henceforth

1. Always remain signed into chat

2. Whether free (green) or busy (red), pls indicate in status message which centre you are in and whether you are in a meeting etc – this helps avoid unnecessary queries / phone calls as to where a person is etc

3. ….

4. If a file is not of use to all and is just for one-time reading pls embed copy into email instead of sending attachments – people postpone opening things – human tendency

5. Label your mails – they are more dynamic than folders and Inbox becomes more organised – work is easier to follow up on

6. Indicate your schedule in advance on your Calendar – scheduling a meeting is taking too much time otherwise and too many phonecalls”

(Her mail incidentally has this disclaimer

“This email and any files transmitted with it are confidential and
intended solely for the use of the individual or entity to whom they
are addressed….”
etc. But this time I hope she will waive it in the public


Also, she is the only one in The Banyan I know who will dutifully activate the out of office autoreply – rarely even when you can spot her at TBC)

I dont know about the other diktats, but Banyanites took the first suggestion seriously and suddenly, despite a character restriction, some great poetic, philosophical, confessional, existential, inane, cryptic status messages began to appear…

Here’s my pick:

B’day girl on Sept 12: older but not wiser

Another one from Vaishnavi with (Bob) Dylanesque flavor: blown’inwind
Damsel in distress Vanitha Venkat: Dont know where I’m

Creative communicator Ranjitha: In transit

(which reportedly got Vaishnavi’s Wow)

Forever on the move Ashok Sir: On ECR

CMHP big boss Porkodi: In Psych OP

Another gem, though cant remember the identity: “Poori’s old cabin”

Mine, the inane one.. “At Home” (with bosses asking Why??)

(Pssst… Some always have the busy sign on – making poor me very envious of them…)

Please send your favourites to Ranjitha or if tech savvy post it directly on this blog….

How about giving a prize for the best one…? Please vote…

Wah! Banyan!

Mohan Ramamoorthy


The recent South Asia Fund Raising Group’s workshop in Agra, like other events, was an opportunity to network…

But I am not good at networking, relationship management… that doesn’t mean I am an anti-social… I can somewhat manage. Can talk about Banyan – taking liberally from Banyan Coords wonderful presentations…

Along the way, they invariably ask: “How long have you been with Banyan?” Now, I have two stock answers and use them depending on the need and occasion…

a) “Oh, I have been with The Banyan for the past three-four months only…”

b) “I have known Banyan and its founder trustees since mid-Nineties….”

Banyan, the Growing Up Pangs
There I saw this particularly striking and impressive youngster. Confident and impressive with loads of attitude. Seemed dedicated and passionate, a result-oriented bundle of energy. Deliberately careless and casual in cool chic jeans and tees.

In a split second, it struck old me… this youngster (gender, I will not tell you) is the personification of The Banyan, in the prime of adolescence.

Youthful Banyan. Raring to go and conquer the world. Impulsive actions and intuitive thinking. Emotions guiding the mind. Strategies born in action and out of genuine concerns. Method in madness and action in chaos. Heart in the right place. Constant tension between “activist” types and “professional” types that Banyan manages to take into its fold. Ask Chaitali!!

Grew incredibly fast, evoking admiration in friends and envy in critics/enemies. Fire in the belly of women in hurry (“So much to do and achieve for social good”, VG, paranoid about dipping energies, administering a dose of inspiration, said “Pausing is death”). But there’s no denying – Banyan has got it right and made the most of its adolescence..

Sadly, you can’t forever be an adolescent. Sadly again, you need to grow up, baby.

Banyan is at a critical juncture… How Banyan can professionalise itself without losing its unique creative chaos… (Is creative chaos too an integral part of the “Mor(e)” celebrated Banyan DNA?!)…

The challenge is to mature, while retaining the youthful exuberance of adolescence. Methinks, there is a struggle in The Banyan to maintain that fine, delicate balance. Each time there is a move to streamline something, there is concern (more often said than unsaid) if it would kill some unique aspect of The Banyan.

I dont know which path the youngster (I saw in Agra) would take – be a conscientious corporate executive or a radical activist. Either ways, s/he is born to make a world of difference. And, that is all that matters at the end of the day.

What next, Banyan? You will have to wait. One day, like the milestone Nimhans study, some H(arvard)BR prof. or someone will capture it for you!!

Of new beginnings


(Pic: Courtesy The Hindu)

P. Jayendra


The photograph in The Hindu captured it all – tree planting symbolising everything The Banyan is doing now (experimenting with multiple models).

 Dr. A.P.J Abdul Kalam’s expression speaking the same genuine and simple language of his words, Vaishnavi’s laughter defining her joy and Vandana’s clap applauding the people who have come together for the cause as well as calling their attention to the huge unfinished work ahead…

Awaiting a hero…


Diwakar S.R.


Dr. Kalam on his earlier visit to The Banyan, seen with Vandana, Vaishnavi, Diwakar and residents

I am looking forward to meeting one of my greatest “REAL LIFE HEROES” again after close to six years . Well, I feel no  one would be better choice to inaugrate our Kovalam Projects for the people than the widely popular “Peoples  (ex) President” of our country – Dr.Abdul Kalam. 

As I look forward to meeting him again, I recall the day he first visited The Banyan in the year 2001. It was an afternoon, the day before our 8th anniversary function  for which he was to be the Chief Guest. He was the Scientific Advisor to the Defence Minister at that time and had also been  awarded the Bharat Ratna that year.

 His humility and modesty were evident from the minute of his arrival when he stopped the horde of high level security officers accompanying from entering The Banyan  stating he was on a personal visit and didn’t want to disturb or frighten the residents.  He was shown around the building by Vandana, Vaishnavi and others – along with a starry-eyed ME!!

He spent close to an hour going to all the floors and interacting a lot with the residents. He got to know, in detail,  how  The Banyan’s system works from the time a resident Is referred or picked up by us till the stage when they are rehabilitated and reintegrated with their family. At the end of the rounds I was given the opportunity for an exclusive photograph with him in the Conference hall. Those moments will be cherished by all – starting with me for a lifetime.

And the framed photograph in my house is there to cheer and inspire me every day… The following year he was chosen to occupy the highest office of our country. During his tenure as  President he supported worked on various social issues including mental illness – the area in which The Banyan works. Now he his back to his favourite occupation, teaching.

It’s certainly an honour for us to have him back in the city and our midst once again to inaugurate the Kovalam Projects.