A pompous friend and the modest billionaire Azim Premji help reinforce a key guiding principle in Vaani and me – that the essence of responsible citizenship lies in trusteeship.
This past week, a friend reached out wanting to visit us to invite us to his daughter’s wedding. We requested him to avoid the formality and support our initiative to save paper. So we asked him to send the Invite over WhatsApp. But the gentleman and his wife insisted on coming home. When they handed over the Invite, printed on hot pink paper with gold letters in a ‘custom-designed’ font, our friend said: “Each invitation card has cost us Rs.1000 and surely WhatsApp would not have done justice to our effort. So, we decided to come personally…that way you can see how elaborately we have planned this wedding…it will be the grandest in our family for a long, long time…!”
Even as he made that statement – both verbally and through physically handing over that expensive invitation card – Vaani and I wondered, if each card cost a whopping Rs.1000, then how big, how fat and how wasteful will the actual wedding itself be?
Although Vaani and I don’t see it that way anymore, I concede that weddings are regarded as a socially relevant and important occasion by most families. But do they really need to be pompous events where everything is about outdoing someone else, showing off how much you have and investing in a vulgar, reckless, display of ego, wealth and status?
Thankfully, some of the younger folks we know are leading a change among their families and peers. A few weddings we have been invited to in the last couple of years have been zero-waste affairs; they were bootstrapped and done tastefully with no pomp, with only very close family and friends in attendance.
We believe weddings, if they must be done at all, must focus on making the experience memorable for everyone present while keeping the event a responsible celebration that emphasizes companionship and Happiness. And when everyone wills it so, weddings can certainly be carefully, meaningfully, curated on lower budgets; the money saved can be put to better use – for the couple to travel and see the world or set up a new home or to support a social cause that is seriously starved of resources.
I know it will be a long way before this view is embraced by the majority. But clearly a Rs.1000-a-piece wedding invitation card is avoidable. Surely, you can create beautiful Invites that can be e-mailed or sent over WhatsApp.
Interestingly, again this past week, we were invited to an event where Azim Premji of Wipro was given the Madras Management Association – Amalgamations Group Business Leadership Award for 2019.
Why does the incredibly simple, modest, Premji even need to be feted with an award? This was the thought uppermost on our mind when we arrived at the event.
But former ICICI Bank Chairman N.Vaghul nailed the reasoning. He said that in a society where values like integrity and trusteeship are almost extinct, where there is a steady decline in responsible conduct of citizenship, the spotlight on Premji’s principled Life can really help showcase the continued relevance of these values. Through telling the story of his Life, of the world-class institutions he has built (in manufacturing, IT and education) and of how much he is giving away (estimated at close to $ 21 billion) to his charity – the Azim Premji Foundation – we are inviting future generations to pause, reflect and, hopefully, embrace his philosophy of trusteeship (which he says is inspired by Mahatma Gandhi).
Vaani and I took away a key learning from Premji’s acceptance speech. He said that there is only so much that a family can consume. The inference clearly is that whatever is available to a family beyond what they require to meet their basic needs may ideally be given away to support someone else’s need to live a dignified Life.
I didn’t miss the irony from the past week as I sat down early this morning to write this Blogpost. The reality of the world – and the times – we live in struck me hard. Surely there are more people around us who believe that making money and showing it all off is the Purpose of Life. They are like our friend who vainly insists that even the invitation card to his daughter’s wedding must announce his wealth and social status. And, sadly, there are fewer people like Premji, who despite all their wealth, remain grounded and are invested in social good. Which is why I agree with Vaghul. Every time a Premji is celebrated, the message of intelligent living, of compassion, of giving, is celebrated. And given the circus of greed and one-upmanship that we see incessantly playing around us, this celebration of responsible citizenship is critical to inspire people; to invite them to consider living fuller, more meaningful, lives.
The idea of responsible citizenship is not about doing charity when you are asked to do it. I am sure most people out there have enough goodness in them to stand up and be counted when they are asked to contribute. So, that’s not the kind of reactive behavior that I am talking about. Responsible citizenship is about trusteeship.
Think of trusteeship like this. You are a trustee of the Life that’s been given to you. And you are a trustee of the planet that you inhabit. So be responsible with how you live and how you use the planet’s resources. Recognize that you need only so much to live and to support your immediate family. Beyond food, clothing, shelter, education, a reasonable healthcare and retirement plan and hi-speed internet connectivity through a smart device, whatever you have, whatever comes your way, give it away. Give, not because you have to give, not because you are asked to give, but give because you want to give. Recognize that just as this human form, this Life, is a gift, every thing, every resource that you acquire in this lifetime, is also given to you. So, be responsible by employing all that you receive for human good, to make the world a better place.
I too will lean on Gandhi to suggest employing a simple principle to make informed, intelligent, decisions when it comes to practising trusteeship (I have tweaked Gandhi’s original thought to make it relatable to our times): “Recall the face of the poorest – economically, emotionally, spiritually – person you have come across and ask yourself if the step you are about to take will benefit this person? Will this person gain from your making this choice? Will it help restore them to a Life of dignity, love and Happiness? If it will, go do what you are planning to do. If it won’t, well, rethink your choice!”
Apply this principle to my friend’s choice to splurge Rs.1000 on that wedding invitation card. Apply it to Premji’s choice to give away $ 21 billion. And apply it to each of your Life choices – from the past, from the present and to those that may come up in the future. And see how beautifully this principle leads you – every single time – to distinguish between want and need; and to do what is right than what appears to be right!
I will continue to post whenever I have a learning to share – may not be daily, but I may post several times in a month.
It has been over 10 years since I have been writing this Blog. I have been writing it daily. Without missing a single day. It started as a Word file in 2007 – as notes to my two children, Aashirwad and Aanchal, in the form of a personal journal (these notes/letters in August 2014 came out as my first Book Fall Like A Rose Petal). Then, in end-2009, I started posting my daily learnings on a Yahoo Group where several of my school friends are members. Slowly, with the emergence of Facebook, I moved to posting there. And eventually, in 2010 or so, I set up my Blog – first on Blogspot and later on WordPress. It has been a fascinating journey over the past decade of sharing learnings continuously – for the past 3650+ days. My daily Blogposts, my sharing, have helped me find meaning in what may otherwise well be called a “dark, meaningless” phase of my Life! My inspiration for my consistency has been Amitabh Bachchan who, despite his superstardom and associated schedules, blogs unfailingly – daily. And my inspiration for my daily posts has been Life itself – I have been sharing here what I have learnt from Life and from people around me.
Going forward, however, I have decided to reduce the frequency of my Blogposts.
I am immersed with conceptualizing and writing two Books – one of them with Vaani. Besides, I would like to dedicate the hour, that I normally invest in writing my Blog daily, to my health – focusing on a walk and exercise regimen to manage my diabetic condition a lot more efficiently!
Today is an important day to make this decision I guess.
It marks the end, astrologically, of a tumultuous phase in our Life. As per my chart, I complete a decade-long phase of my Life today. This phase came close on the heels of another scorching 7-year phase. In these 17 years my own views on God, religion, rituals, faith, astrology and the inscrutable Higher Energy have evolved. I have come to realize that Life (all Life) has a Purpose, everything happens for a reason and time plays a huge role in whatever we experience. I have now understood that Life is the greatest teacher of them all. She always gives you the test first and lesson later. Astrology to me is a science (like meteorology is) that tells you how the conditions are likely to be – I don’t see it (anymore) as capable of changing your Life’s course. In fact, no one, and nothing, can change it. I remain grateful to Life for all that I have experienced and learnt.
Even so, as I embark on a new phase in my Life, when I sincerely believe our business and financial situation will turn around, and we will be able to repay all the money that we owe people, I look forward to engaging even more purposefully with Life. With Vaani, I hope to be Inspiring Happiness among any audience that cares to pause and reflect – through my Books, my Talks, our Workshops and through this Blog. I may play around with the medium here – choosing to write a Blogpost or share a Vlog or Podcast. I will essentially continue to post whenever I have a learning to share – may not be daily, but I may post several times in a month. So, please stay tuned! Vaani and I wish you and your precious family, good health, abundance and “Happyness” – now and always!