What I learnt from my forgettable Ravindra Gaikwad moment

Can you fight the good fight while being untouched and unmoved?

I have been following with interest the episode involving Shiv Sena MP, Ravindra Gaikwad, slapping an Air India official for being denied a business class seat on an all-economy flight! The MP has since been banned from flying. I don’t wish to comment on what led to the MP’s apparently irrational behavior. But the incident brought back memories of a forgettable day in my Life.

There was a time, up until a decade ago, when I would travel 21 days in a month. And I flew only Jet Airways – both because of their superior service back then and because I was a Platinum Jet Privilege member. I had perfected a process of tele-checkin, 48 hours prior to departure, which ensured I always sat either on seats 10A or 10F – both were window seats in the first row of economy on most of Jet’s Boeing 777-800 series domestic fleet! On a Mumbai-Bengaluru flight one morning, I found another passenger sitting on 10A, the seat that I had chosen and had been allotted. I requested a flight attendant, a young man called Malvinder, to help me reclaim my seat. He tried talking to my co-passenger but that gentleman would not budge. Malvinder requested me to “adjust” and sit in 10B, the middle seat. I hate middle seats. So, I told Malvinder, “Either get me my allotted seat 10A or bump me up to business class,  as I am a frequent flier with many thousand air miles to my credit.” For whatever reason, which I could never comprehend, Malvinder blurted this reply out: “Sirjee, ki pharakh penda hai…what’s the big difference, it is a 90m flight and surely you can adjust.” I lost my cool and told Malvinder that I was going to report him. To which, he replied, “Please do. But this is the best that can be done at the moment.”

As you can see the Jet Airways staffer was clearly lacking empathy and tact in dealing with the situation. Clearly, a non-issue became a big one. I fumed all through that flight. I was angry and hurt. And I wanted “revenge”. So, upon landing in Bengaluru, I called up Jet Airways’ Mumbai headquarters and got myself connected to their head of service quality, a gentleman named VS. He heard me out. He was able to grasp quickly where my angst came from – I was upset that I was denied the seat of my choice; but I was protesting the lack of dignity with which I was treated. VS apologized profusely. He said he will “look into the matter”. I was gratified that I was heard. And I thought that it was the end of the story. But it was not!

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That evening I flew from Bengaluru to Chennai – I had tele-checkedin and had been allotted 10A. But I got a business class upgrade because the flight was overbooked. When I landed in Chennai, and exited through the aerobridge, I found Malvinder at the door of the aircraft, looking at me sheepishly. Though I saw him, I pretended not to and kept walking. But he quickly ran up to me and said, “Sir I am very sorry for this morning’s episode and my behavior. I have been grounded. Mr.VS also spoke to me. I feel ashamed. If you can forgive me, and inform Mr.VS, I can get back on duty.” I didn’t say a word till we reached the baggage carousel. I then looked at the young man and told him tersely, “Never repeat this another time with any other passenger. We are the reason why you get your salary.” Malvinder promised he would keep my “advice” in mind, thanked me profusely, apologized unconditionally and saw me off at the kerbside.

When I think back to that day, to that episode and to my whole attitude, I feel yes, as a customer, I had every right to behave the way I did. But I had so much vanity in me, so much ego, as a human. My whole trip in Life that day was to “teach Malvinder a lesson”. It wasn’t quite about giving Jet Airways feedback or perspective. The Gaikwad-Air India drama brought back all those haunting memories. Mercifully, I was not so full of myself, so I “got even” with Malvinder in a very corporate sense. But, now, I feel even this reaction of mine was avoidable.

When you are denied what you expect, most of all dignity, your mind will unfailingly scream within you: “How dare he or she or they do this to me?” Now, if you let your mind direct you, you will behave the Gaikwad way at one extreme or even possibly the AVIS-way! Or you may sulk and file a law suit at someone. Or you may simply feel hurt and think you are worthless – which is, pine in self-pity! What I have learnt from that experience, and from Life, is to not dramatize any situation. Particularly, don’t allow your mind to paint, dark, gory versions of what is just another event. In my case, I was denied a seat of my choice. Just as it was in Gaikwad’s case. Everything else, what or how Malvinder spoke or how the Air India team purportedly treated Gaikwad, all that, is just drama. In any context, there’s a forum for appeal to take up any issue. Stay with the issue and deal with the forum. Don’t fume, don’t demand revenge. In the long term, spewing venom at someone or something is never worth your while; it only pollutes your inner being!

I am not saying you must not fight the good fight. Of course, you must. But don’t lose your sanity, your equilibrium, your sleep, trying to fight, or wanting to get even with someone. The best way to fight any battle is to never appear to have fought it at all! Which really means, can you fight it while you remain untouched and unmoved?

There’s a lot of Life left after a crisis. A lot of Life!

You can surely use a crisis in your Life to make it meaningful.

Some years ago, I was traveling by the Rajdhani Express from Surat to Mumbai. The passenger sitting next to me was keen to have a conversation with me. I was least interested in chatting with anyone and preferred to go back to reading Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, which was nearing its unputdownable climax. But the man was irritatingly persistent. I finally put down the book and looked in my neighbor’s direction. He started the conversation gleefully. I soon discovered that he had an inspiring story to share. He, I learned, is a very successful diamond trader. His wife and only child had died in the Indian Airlines (now Air India) IC 113 plane crash at Ahmedabad airport in October 1988. He showed me pictures of his deceased wife and son. He told me how difficult it was initially for him to cope with his sudden, devastating loss.

“I loved my wife and son dearly. For many months after their death, I would wake up in the middle of the night screaming their names. I would be alone in my palatial bungalow. And my screams would echo back to me. It was eerie,” he said.

“How did you move on? Did you remarry,” I asked, considering that he was in his mid-forties when I met him.

“I chose not to remarry. I moved on, however, because I soon realized suffering and grieving was foolish. It was not going to bring back my family alive to me. I realized that while I loved them a lot, I was hardly spending time with them. I was busy making money. Now, I have lots of money. But no family to go back to. So, I have made it my mission in Life to awaken people to the importance of spending time with their families, and not just on their careers. Which is what I want to tell you too. Please make time for people who you love. Spend quality time with your wife and children. Life is very unpredictable and impermanent. Make sure you have meaningful memories when you are finally alone,” he explained.

That man on the train was serving me a wake-up call back then. I was still running the rat race then and was imagining that earning-a-living was more important than living. His wisdom, as it turned out eventually, was more unputdownable than The Da Vinci Code! For he had understood not just Life but its value. He had managed to make his Life – and his trauma, his crisis – meaningful.

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When I think back to that train journey and conversation, I feel it has helped me make my own Life meaningful, purposeful, especially in the wake of the bankruptcy that we are enduring as Firm and as a family. If today Vaani and I invest our every waking hour in inspiring happiness among all those are willing to pause and reflect, the seed for this sense of Higher Purpose has was perhaps sown in that conversation. To be sure, we are far away from having solved our problems, but we do realize that our crisis happening to us is part of a larger design, of what is to happen through us.

Clearly, when a crisis first hits you, you may think you can’t go on. You will imagine that, it is all over, you are finished. And so, when you are in the throes of a crisis, you may not believe that there is a lot of Life after a crisis and that the rest of your Life can really be meaningful. But if you move on and don’t allow yourself to be held hostage by the crisis, the Purpose behind why you have to go through whatever you are going through will soon unravel itself. Then you too will wake up to the opportunity and Life that there is after a crisis!  

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