Be useful. Make each day of your Life memorable!

Age doesn’t matter. Seriously it doesn’t. What matters is what do you want to do in Life!
John Pontin 
We met an enterprising, energetic, committed and alive 78-year-old last evening. He’s John Pontin, a British millionaire, who ran a design and build company that has been engaged in socially enlightened property development for over half a century now. But what keeps John awake at nights, and awakened, is his monomaniacal focus and commitment to leave our planet a better place. His work is currently focused around a charity he helped launch a few years ago called The Converging World with a seed fund of 2 million British Pounds. One of its objects is to fund and build renewable sources of energy, such as wind turbines, in India. In 2008 The Converging World project installed two large turbines in Tamil Nadu. Since then, and a few smaller turbines later, several million units of electricity have been delivered to the Tamil Nadu State grid. Ask John why is he doing what he’s doing and he says, with a twinkle in his eye, “I am driven by this hunger, this sense of urgency, to make a change. To do something. I can’t wait. What has to be done, has to be done.”
Talking to John his like getting yourself a shot of inspiration. He looks 78. But he’s got the energy of an 18-year-old. “I know I am not getting any younger biologically. But I couldn’t have felt younger or better. I am living the best years of my Life. I am creative, naïve and am getting cheeky. Maybe that’s what’s making me do stuff or get stuff done faster which normally takes a long, long time getting done,” he explains.
John and his team at The Converging World are no doubt doing great service. That they will make significant contributions in the years to come is for sure – that alone is not something that will be counted as John’s legacy. What John is teaching us all is this: Age is a mere number. Be useful. Make every day of your Life memorable and make it count!

I wish all of us snap out of our comfort zones and complaining-sprees. I wish we stopped existing and merely earning a living. I wish we borrowed a leaf from John’s book, rolled up our sleeves and went down to work on making a difference. John reminds us that our time here is ticking away. And that the best gift we can give our children is a better world that’s greener, beautiful and bountiful. Even if we don’t want to be a conservationist or sustainability champion like John, we may just want to be useful to the human race instead of putting up our feet and gloating over how successful our material lives and careers have been. Hearing John speak last evening, I was certain about one more thing – there is no better time to get started on living and serving than now.

Stop being a ‘nobody to anybody’

Sometimes we all see so much pain and suffering around us. And we wonder why is Life so harsh on people?
There is a reason.
Each instance of pain, every suffering fellow voyager through Life, is an invitation to us, an opportunity for us to lift ourselves from this quagmire of self-centered thinking and invest ourselves__our time, resources and efforts__meaningfully. And yet we hurry through Life, squirming at times when we see destitute people on the streets or hear of those who are living in agony and despair, promising ourselves that we will serve the rest of humanity when we have enough for ourselves first, which includes the most priceless commodity, our time!
Mother Teresa always reminded us of the folly in such thinking. She said that the best form of prayer was to serve those who needed love, understanding and caring. “One of the greatest diseases is to be a nobody to anybody. Only in heaven will we see how much we owe to the poor for helping us to love God better because of them,”  said. The time we have, this lifetime, is really not for merely rearing families, earning an income, planning for our retirement, and worrying about our past, present and future. It will be more meaningful to invest some of our time daily to touch lives__to cause a smile, to give some understanding, to lend a shoulder.
In making a difference to another Life, we will discover the God we so desperately seek. And, believe me, it is not so difficult to make a beginning. There are over 1 billion people that go hungry on the planet daily. Which means even if one of every 5 people feeds a hungry person daily, the hunger crisis can be mitigated. You could be one of those 5 people today! As Mother Teresa exhorted, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” What are you waiting for? Stop being sick__a nobody to anybody. Wake up and make a difference today!

Make a difference before your Visa for this lifetime expires

Never conclude that you are too small to make a difference.
A lot of the problems we face as individuals, as nations or as a world today can be solved if only each of us understands the value of our contributions. To be sure, there is no problem that’s unsolvable in this world. But solutions don’t get found or implemented because we are steeped in scarcity thinking. “What can I, who am a small fry, do about this?” is the most debilitating question we can ask ourselves.
The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzing Gyatso, often quotes an African proverb that says, “If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a closed room with a mosquito.” He should know. Because for the last several decades he has been, in exile, leading the Tibetans’ right to self-determination against an oppressive Chinese government, and has now come to represent the universal right to freedom and human dignity. He lives by this credo: “As long as space will exist and there will be need to alleviate the suffering of living things, may I be around, may I be useful.” It is a philosophy worth internalizing.
Look around you. See the waste, the garbage being generated, even as the ecology is being senselessly destructed, every moment that we humans inhabit the planet. See the pain and suffering of hundreds of thousands of people in just your neighborhood, they are dying of disease, loneliness, hunger and emotional trauma. See the values-crisis that the world is grappling with. It is not just the economy that is struggling. The way we live has become so self-centered and irresponsible. It is time for action. We must be inspired by the girl on the beach who continues to throw the star fish back into the ocean so that they can live and believes that to each one that she throws back, she’s making a difference. (Watch the video here of this beautiful story!). On a spiritual plane, the Masters say, when even one member of a family, looks inward and finds a deeper meaning to Life, there’s a ripple effect on everyone connected. The whole family begins to radiate the positive energy and starts seeing abundance and opportunity in everything. On a practical plane, if you start behaving more responsibly __ for instance, stopMping the use of plastic, not drinking and driving, maybe ride a bicycle instead of driving to work, reaching out and helping someone in need__you will have made a difference. So look around you, see what’s within your reach, in your control and work on it.
We are all on a single-entry, limited tenure Visa on Planet Earth. The key is, when we pass on, we must be able to answer the following questions: “As long I was on the planet, was I useful? Did I make a difference?” The Dalai Lama and the girl in the video can answer ‘yes’ to those questions. Can you?

Your ‘Daily Good Turn’ awaits you!

Ever paused to think what a random act of kindness can do to you?
It can brighten up your day, keep you energized and create a positive aura in your immediate circle of influence. In fact, it can do the job better than any body freshener or deodorant that you currently use!!! In everyday Life, you have the option of being rushed, stressed and moving forward with blinkers on, obsessed with yourself and your priorities. Or you can notice the innumerable opportunities that surround you where you can make a difference. The problem with us is that we have psyched ourselves into believing that a. an individual alone cannot make a difference; b. we don’t have time to invest just now and c. we reason within ourselves that since Life has been unkind to me in the past, why should I be kind to anyone? A random act of kindness is doing good or saying something good while expecting nothing in return, not even an acknowledgment, let alone gratitude. James West (1876~1948), the ‘Godather’ of the Boy Scouts movement, in 1928, called a random act of kindness, ‘…the Daily Good Turn that is instrumental in instilling a habit of service and an attitude of mind that offsets a tendency to selfishness…’ How simple. And how relevant this philosophy is even today!

In a facebook and twitter era, when service organizations like the Scouts are forgotten, it is our responsibility to not only make our days meaningful but to also inculcate in our children a sense of selfless service. We don’t need to have money to be kind. We must only develop the aptitude and attitude to be kind. Even picking up litter from the street, knowing fully well that we are not responsible for the litter or the street, is an act of kindness. In fact, in Islam, Prophet Muhammad, prescribed this__picking up litter from the street__as an act of faith. So, whether you want to do it because it concerns the faith you practice or you want to do it to keep you energized all day long, your Daily Good Turn awaits you. Do one each day of the week and feel the difference in – and for – yourself!

Will you be a Santa today__and all year round?

The true purpose of Life is to serve. And that’s what the spirit of Christmas is all about too.

As kids we have all grown up adoring Santa. We have waited for our gifts. Or in families such as mine, where Santa was seen as something Western, Christian, we perhaps quietly envied those whose lives were touched by Santa. Even if it was about some wishes coming true or about surprise gifts coming clothed in stockings, there was an admirable quality about Santa. He toiled to make others happy. I remember, as a young boy growing up in New Rajinder Nagar in New Delhi, in the year preceding the imposition of Emergency in India, wondering if Santa would not be tired visiting so many homes. My bed was beside the window. And my neighbor Buba, whose family had a Christmas tree up in their balcony with festive lights adorning the frontage, making it all, look surreal and beautiful, had told me that he had wished for Santa to deliver a battery operated toy car to him! Buba’s balcony was in front of my window. I remember sitting up all night, keeping vigil on Buba’s balcony, trying to see if Santa really came by. I must have slept at some point because I did not see Santa come in. But Buba had his wish fulfilled. He came running home first thing the next morning to show off his new toy car!

My own views of Santa have changed obviously over the years. From thinking of him as a religious father figure __ because he visited only Christian homes! __ to seeing the message of selfless service in his legend. And now I see Santa as a metaphor for service, for touching lives and for making a difference. Santa is also an inspiration for serving selflessly __ have you ever wondered what wish Santa may be wishing, what gift Santa wants or who will grant him his wish or give him his present?

Surely, as each generation grows up, it will realize, just as we all have, that Santa is what parents play to their excited little ones. But perhaps there is value in teaching our children, and their children, that a true Santa is really one who touches lives and makes a difference.

Whoever you are, wherever you are, try something different today. Don’t try it because I invite you to or that you want to feel good. Even wanting to feel good is an expectation. Do it because you genuinely want to give! Take anything that you have not used in 6 months __ except your passport __ and which you think will be more useful to someone else. It could be books, clothes, shoes, blankets, pillows, suitcases, a table lamp, utensils, a pen drive, an old wristwatch, a bunch of music CDs, whatever. Go around a couple of blocks in your neighborhood. And give away whoever needs whatever you have with you. Someone may not need any of these things you carry with you, but may just want a hot coffee, or some soup or a meal. Buy them that. Or sometimes people may just need someone to talk to. Give them your time, your presence and your attention. When you are handing over whatever you eventually will, look the person in the eye and say, from the bottom of your heart, ‘Thank You. Feel genuinely grateful for this opportunity to serve. If you felt blessed and drenched in a rare energy, do it every day. Or at least when you get time or whenever you feel depressed, trampled upon or lost in Life.

The essence of intelligent living is in understanding that it is far more significant to be useful than just be successful. A small mass of humanity is successful. An equally small mass of humanity is useful. But it is only the latter that make a big difference to a large mass of humanity that is suffering and lives in hunger and depravation __ yearning for food, clothing, warmth, shelter and above all, compassion.

You can choose to be Santa and touch those who form this unfortunate majority. Go touch a Life this Christmas __ that would be a far more intelligent thing to do than just post hollow greetings, that you have not even applied your mind, forget soul, to, on social media or instant messaging services.

In reality, Santa is timeless. And seasonless. When you value someone’s need as higher than your own, when you make an effort with no self-gain in mind, when you simply give because you want to give, you will be a Santa too and each day will be merry __ Christmas or not __ meaningful and memorable.


Don’t let your money matter more than you!

Employ money to make your Life comfortable. Don’t let it enslave you!
This morning’s papers had a shocking story of girl from Kochi suing her father for gifting her ‘fake jewelry’ at her wedding. It’s yet another instance of how money keeps us from being human! It got me thinking.
Money is important. No doubt. It can buy you many things that will make your Life simpler and comfortable. But letting money buy over your peace of mind is hara-kiri.
Our entire attitude to Life has become money-oriented. Life decisions are being taken basis whether it can help make or save money. Not basis whether it can give you joy! Another dimension worth considering is that you can never say what people want of you. Do they want you and respect you for what you really are? Or do they want your money and respect how much of it you have? So, when money, which anyway is impermanent, stops coming your way, you suddenly discover that your durbar has dispersed. People don’t want you anymore. Because you don’t have what they want with you. You feel lonely, unwanted and unhappy. That’s when your big realization happens. That money is just a means. It must not dominate your Life, your emotions or your actions. Instead if you let happiness dominate your Life, emotions and actions, you will still make money. More important, you will then know how to use it!
I remember the movie Forrest Gump, which has a very relevant line that Gump says: “Don’t own nothin’ if you can help it. If you can, rent your shoes.” This whole desire to amass more and more in the hope that we will be secure and happy makes us slaves of a lifestyle we have long stopped enjoying. It fills our lives with grief every time something goes wrong with our Life __ as it often will and does! You lose your job or an important business contract and you imagine it is the end of the road. You plunge into depression. Or you lose your sanity over trying to protect what wasn’t worth protecting at all in the first place. I love LAMY pens. And I collect them as well, besides using them. A few years ago, when on a flight, I lost my favorite blue LAMY pen. For weeks I agonized over it. I felt a part of me was lost. I hunted high and low for one in India. At that time, Indian stationers did not retail LAMYs. And so I couldn’t find one in India. Years after this incident, my Firm went bankrupt and we entered a phase of complete pennilessness. One day, while practicing my daily silence period, it suddenly struck me how stupid I had been in agonizing over the loss of a pen, when in reality, my family and I had lost everything material __ all our money, all assets. And what remained was just us and our love for each other! It was a beautiful moment of awakening. The light that appeared in that moment continues to drench my Life with its brilliance!
Azim Premji: Keeper not Owner
A recent issue of Forbes India has Azim Premji, one of the wealthiest Indians, and chairman of Wipro, share his views about ‘employing’ his wealth to make a difference to others. His son Rishad, who works with Premji, both in the corporate and also on the board of Azim Premji Foundation, the Group’s philanthropy arm, says that they (the Premji family) are only keepers of the wealth (estimated to be $ 12 billion) and not its owners. “He’s (Azim Premji) always told us, ‘I am comfortable giving you something in Life but if you want anything above that, you have to earn it for yourself. The rest is meant to be given away, it is an obligation to give it away’,” says Rishad to Forbes India’s Mitu Jayashankar.
Important perspective that. You or I may not have the billions. We may be giving. Or we may plan to give. But the least you__and I__can do is to not grieve over money or let it enslave us. Let’s put it to good use __ to make our lives comfortable and to make a difference to someone else’s!