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!
Folks like RJ Balaji must help the youth focus on doing greater good that can change India forever.
This post is in continuation of my post of yesterday on Life having a Higher Purpose. I have been watching the Jallikattu protests in Tamil Nadu with curiosity. While the peaceful manner in which the protests have been held so far is commendable, I feel a great opportunity needs to be urgently leveraged. This opportunity is really about creating a mass, democratic movement that has the potential to change the socio-political landscape of not just Tamil Nadu, but of the entire country. But for this to happen, this youth movement must rise above temptations of petty, regional, jingoism and embrace a Higher Purpose.
So far the protests across Tamil Nadu are known to have a focus only on the Jallikattu issue. I feel this is a very myopic way to look at preserving Tamizh culture and to channelize youth energy. It is very disturbing when you consider that many – artists, intellectuals, commonfolk – really don’t appear to be seeing the bigger picture. I have a simple question: don’t #Manushanda and #Indianda come far ahead of the parochial #Tamizhanda war-cry? I don’t want to emphasize on the unconfirmed references to purported secessionist clarion calls by a section of the protestors who played up the Eelam card or held up pictures of the late LTTE commando Prabhakaran. I also don’t want to lament the behavior – again unconfirmed –of a section of the protestors who purportedly used abusive language in reference to PM Modi and CM O Paneerselvam. Such discordant notes are bound to be struck when so much energy comes rising up – without proper channelization, without a bonding glue, without a Higher Purpose. The only voice that made sense, though it may be accused of being unnecessarily rabid, was that of RJ Balaji. I totally agree with Balaji that the time has come for ordinary citizens to join the democratic process – first, by going beyond just voting in every election. He champions for us to stand up, even if it means protesting every single time an issue arises – and in India, there is an issue born or created almost all the time, 24×7 – and raise questions. And what better way to get started on this journey than by allowing ourselves to be led by the youth of our land? Yes, I have a fundamental disagreement with Jallikattu being a cause for an uprising. But somewhere, somehow, a beginning had to be made. It has so happened that Jallikattu has now united a diverse set of people to a cause. So far, the political class has been getting away with sacrilege and the murder of democracy because there was no movement that had managed to reach as far as this youth effort in Tamil Nadu has gotten. This is why this opportunity, of making #Jallikattu a lasting metaphor, must be seized, urgently, immediately.
This is where a huge responsibility vests with people like RJ Balaji. There have been youthful voices like his in the recent past in India – but, at least to my mind, they have been laced with secessionist and communal flavors. Balaji, and a majority of the youth in the Tamil Nadu movement, have been, commendably, apolitical and non-communal. So, if anybody must be supported, it must be them.
We must all encourage and invite them to embrace a Higher Purpose. That Higher Purpose must simply be to cleanse Indian society of its corrupt, insensitive, ineffective political system. Here corruption does not refer to money bribes and illegitimate material accumulations alone, it also includes a corrupt thought process. When anything is taken up with Higher Purpose – which by character, by its very nature, goes beyond money, name, fame and power – it always succeeds. This is the only reason the Civil Disobedience Movement that Gandhi led succeeded – it got us our freedom! So, per me, embracing the Higher Purpose of cleansing our society means to create a nationwide movement that must aim to get elected only educated, honest, skilled representatives to both Houses of Parliament and to every State Assembly. That’s ensuring the selection and election of a few thousand people – from among 1.25 billion Indians. Extremely doable! I believe this is really what our youth want and are capable of achieving. I only hope they can define and internalize this Higher Purpose for themselves – for all of them, for all of us – and build a national movement. Only this will ensure that their energy is not frittered away and they remain united in the face of any pressure that the political class is bound to mount.
To be unfrustrated when you don’t get the results you want is a skill that you can teach yourself.
A gentleman asked me the other day: “It must be so frustrating AVIS to endure a bankruptcy for such a long time. Why do talented and ethical people like you have to go through a tough Life?” I smiled back at him. My reply: “Talent and integrity don’t ensure a crisis-free Life. The nature of Life is such that it is one continuous adventure. You just have to deal with whatever comes your way.”
I feel people unnecessarily complicate Life by imagining that they should be free from problems, challenges or crises. To be sure, Life never promised anyone a hassle-free ride. In fact, Life makes no promises. We humans bring our expectations to the party and then we invite suffering into our Life when those expectations are not met. When Life makes no promises, and when you expect something out of Life, and that expectation is not fulfilled, and you suffer, who is to blame? Of course, you have only yourself to blame. So, simply, drop all expectations and Life will be a lot easier to deal with.
In “Gandhi The Man”, Eknath Easwaran (1910~1999), writes about how Mahatma Gandhi drew great inspiration from the Bhagavad Gita to keep the focus only on his efforts and to learn to be detached from the outcomes. The Gita says: ‘Do your allotted work, but renounce its fruit – be detached and work – have no desire for reward and work’. And Gandhi internalized this learning thus: “This is the unmistakable teaching of the Gita. He who gives up action falls. He who gives up only the reward rises. But renunciation of fruit in no way means indifference to the result. In regard to every action one must know the result that is expected to follow, the means thereto, and the capacity for it. He, who, being thus equipped, is without desire for the result, and is yet wholly engrossed in the due fulfillment of the task before him, is said to have renounced the fruits of his action.”
I meditated, during my daily mouna (silence periods) sessions, on this learning for weeks on end some years ago. And over time I cultivated the ability to stay detached from the outcomes of my efforts. Vaani helped me through this process. This is how both of us have been able to deal with our Life with great equanimity.
Internalizing this learning has helped us immensely to remain unfrustrated when we don’t get what we want despite our very sincere efforts and all our integrity. When you are unfrustrated then you see any challenge only as an opportunity to learn patience and to retry. Which is why, when people often ask me, when do I think we will get out of our bankruptcy, I always reply, “I know we will be out of this. I just can’t say when.”
To be unfrustrated is a skill that can be learnt with practice. It requires training your mind to engage with only the present moment, with only the efforts. Simply, when there is integrity of Purpose, when there is relentless, unsparing effort, when you trust the process of Life, then you can never be frustrated with the outcomes!
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