To serve, ahead of saying you deserve, is a beautiful way to make your Life meaningful.
An interesting story in today’s Economic Times caught my attention this morning. The story was revisiting and reviewing the legacy of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi – today marks her 100th birthday.
I have seen Indira Gandhi once. She came to campaign for the elections in Kerala in 1982. I was living in Kollam back then; I was a student, barely 15 years old. Along with a few of my friends I had gathered close to a special stage that was erected in the middle of the Asramam maidanam in Kollam. The crowds cheered lustily when she landed in a helicopter some distance away from the stage. She walked briskly to the stage and raced up the stairs to reach the top – and delivered a great speech in flawless English. She must have been 65 but she had so much energy. I was mesmerized by her aura, her power, her diction and her energy.
I resolved right then that someday I too would be the Prime Minister of India. I wanted to be like Indira Gandhi – powerful, charismatic and in control. That was an ambition that I nurtured till a decade back.
But over the past 10 years – thanks perhaps to my personal evolution through our bankruptcy – I have let that ambition dissolve. Someone recently asked me if “spirituality dilutes your ambition, your worldliness”. And I replied, “Spirituality helps you realize the futility of mindless pursuit and avaricious ambition. It awakens you to a Higher Purpose – you begin to see the opportunity in being useful, in creating value for people around you, than wanting to cling on, to control and to only be individually successful.” While I certainly don’t plan – not anymore – to enter politics either for the sake of power or for wanting to be Prime Minister, I must confess, I have not really turned less ambitious. I will say that my personal evolution has helped me realize that to serve selflessly is more purposeful, more meaningful, than pursuing what you think you deserve. To serve, ahead of saying you deserve, is a beautiful way to make your Life meaningful.
Reading about Indira Gandhi this morning made me reflect on my journey, my evolution. I still count her among my icons. She had this unique ability to blend her personal ambition with her deep desire to serve India. In a way, her vision for a secular India is more relevant today than it ever was. I sincerely hope a leader who can revisit and reclaim that idea of India emerges soon.
As for me, along with Vaani, the focus in Life is just two-fold: one, work hard and repay all the money we owe to our 179 creditors/Angels (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) and two, be driven by our Higher Purpose of Inspiring Happiness – helping people understand that it is possible to be non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering. In the time we have remaining on the planet, we want to be unwavering in this focus.
Having said that, I must clarify that ambition is not a dirty word. Ambition is very important for progress, for human achievement. But I now understand that ambition must go beyond you. It must benefit others. To want to leave the world better than you found it is ambition too. I believe I am blessed that my bankruptcy revealed the Purpose of my creation to me and has helped me see my congenital ambitious streak in a meaningful light!
Have I given up? Have I grown too old?
I have been trying to convince a legendary actor, who is 75 now, for a conversation I am trying to have with him for my Sunday column (for DT Next) and for my forthcoming Book, “The Happiness Road”. He responded saying he is busy with a mega project involving a Tamizh literary classic and so he did not have the time. I respected his choice.
When sharing this update with my photographer-partner (on “The Happiness Road” project) Vinodh Velayudhan, I added that I found it interesting that I will not be pursuing this actor for a meeting anymore. I told Vinodh that all my Life I had worked with the principle that I should not take ‘no’ for an answer. As a journalist, this principle helped me a lot – I am among the few people who have interviewed Shapoorji Pallonji Mistry (Cyrus Mistry’s father), Vijay Mallya, Ramesh Gelli (Global Trust Bank), C.Sivasanakaran (who I later worked with as Executive Assistant), Rajarathinam (the takeover tycoon who funded all his takeovers by debt) and several other elusive business leaders; I was the only writer-journalist to be allowed on the plane carrying Rajiv Gandhi’s dead body on May 22, 1991 (read my blogpost on that experience here). To be sure, this don’t-take-no-for-an-answer attitude helped me in my business Life too – I stitched together international deals and partnerships with a unique combination of passion, conviction and aggression. Simply, if someone said ‘no’ to me, I pursued them, and like the car rental company’s positioning line, “I tried harder!” And often, I got what I had set out to achieve!
“Why then is today’s AVIS taking ‘no’ for an answer from this actor,” asked Vinodh on WhatsApp. “Is it that you have grown old or is it that you are giving up,” he prodded.
I smiled and replied that I found his questions deeply provocative and reflective at the same time. I said I would answer them through a blogpost. And so, here’s today’s post dedicated to answering Vinodh’s questions.
I believe that to refuse to take ‘no’ for an answer is a good trait to possess. Without ambition, without aggression, there is no progress. When I reflect upon my behavior as a young, firebrand journalist, and later as a young business leader, I feel my primary driver for pushing a door open, when it didn’t open to a knock, was my ambition. I wanted to be famous. And fame, as I believed in back then, came from being among famous people and doing things that others had not done before. I also had this egotistic streak in me – it was pretty well pronounced – so, I always responded with a “How dare you say this to me” whenever someone said ‘no’ to me. This unbridled aggression and drive defined me in the first 15 years of my career – it gave me a lot of fame, a lot of professional success and it gave me this tag that I loved: “AVIS is a man in a hurry, a dreamer, a doer!”
I have no regrets about who I was, and the way I was, back then. But the next 15 years of my Life, from 2002~2017, have really been about me asking far more meaningful questions about my Life. What is the point of success, fame, money? What is the Purpose of Life? Can there be a simpler way to do things – when you do it for the sheer joy it gives you and not necessarily to prove a point or achieve something at the cost of defeating someone else? What is happiness? How are some people happy despite their challenging circumstances? And why are some people unhappy despite the blessings, the abundance, in their lives?
These questions have brought me to this path, “The Happiness Road”, and I am enjoying the journey. I know for sure that there is no destination on this path. There is nowhere to arrive at. On this road, I wrote my Book Fall Like A Rose Petal . I curate interesting, reflective conversations in public spaces, I deliver Talks and I seek to meet people who are willing to share with me – and with Vaani – their idea of happiness. Everything we do – including our Workplace Happiness Firm www.avinitiatives.co.in – is about “Inspiring Happiness” among people who care to pause and reflect.
So, all my ambition is now channelized, directing the energy, inward. It flows uninhibited like always but it flows fueling my inner joy. I am not here to prove anything to anyone – not anymore! I am not preying on famous people so I can become famous being seen in their company. I am looking for fellow voyagers, like me and Vaani, who will sit down for a conversation along the path that we are traveling together on. If someone says ‘no’, I respect their choice. It doesn’t matter anymore who is saying ‘no’ to me; a ‘no’ does not have a debilitating impact on me either. It doesn’t matter if I appear to be behaving like I am too old for being ambitious or that I appear to be giving up. It seriously doesn’t matter!
I am on this path, “The Happiness Road”, and I am blissful here. I am not here pursuing anyone or anything. I am here, I am happy and I know I only have one thing to do on this path – like in the iconic Kishoreda-Panchamda-Gulzar song ‘Musafir Hoon Yaron’ from the 1972-classic ‘Parichay’…Bas Chalte Jaana Hai…I just have to keep walking!