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!
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!
Life simply happens – you complicate it by labeling events per your expectations.
“I don’t deserve this s**t in Life,” declared a lady the other day while sharing how tough her Life was – single parenting, a stressful job, mounting expenses and a family that refused to understand her. She wanted to know how someone could create a Life they truly deserve.
There’s only one way to do this. You must expunge the word ‘deserve’ from your Life, you must stop seeking deservance and you must drop all expectations. The truth about all our lives is that no one deserves s**t, yet s**t happens to all of us!
Having said that, I want to clarify that defining something in your Life as s**t is a very human thing to do. Life itself does not label any of its happenings. It just keeps on happening. Just because you don’t like what’s happening to you, because you don’t want it in your Life, you label it as s**t. The moment you label something as bad or ugly, suffering sets in. Instead see Life as an endless series of events. Don’t call it by any name – don’t say such-and-such event is good or say that something else is bad. Just take each event as it comes and deal with it. This is how you expunge this idea of deservance from your mind, from your Life. When you don’t put conditions on Life, it can never haunt you. Simple.
There is only one way Life works. It simply goes on happening. So, take everything in your stride. And be accepting of whatever comes your way. Everything you do, do it as an offering to a higher energy. Don’t let your mind talk to you about what you deserve. If it does, take your mind off that expectation. If you let it grow, it will make your Life miserable. Drop the very idea that you deserve anything. In fact, your greatest wealth, what you truly deserve, has already been given to you – this lifetime, in this human form. Just be happy and content with it. Then nothing will seem like s**t and no s**t will happen or disturb your inner peace!
Your Life’s Purpose is not to earn a living alone and to keep thinking you deserve more!
A FB post by a friend raises this very interesting, fundamental question: “Do uncertain times call for a certainty of Purpose?”
My answer: “Of course it does!”
Though we don’t normally see it, recognize it or realize it, all creation has a Purpose. If you look around you, every aspect of Nature serves a Purpose. The sun, the trees, the animals, the birds, the insects, the rivers, the oceans – each of these forms of creation is there with a reason. The human species too has been created with and for a reason. But somewhere along the way, we humans have forgotten a. that we have been created b. that the Purpose of our creation is not to merely earn a living or to plunder the planet and cannibalize other species that we co-habit this space with.
Let us first appreciate that the human form is a blessing we receive from creation. Think about it: we could have been created in any other form – why are we created human? Therefore, we must then understand that if we have been created human, there must a reason for it. And that reason cannot be to amass wealth, to stress over material accumulations and to suffer when our wants are unfulfilled. Very simply, the Purpose of being created human is to serve, and through serving other forms of creation, being happy. But what do we do instead? We are continuously seeking deservance, and when we don’t get what we want, we are ending up being unhappy! Isn’t this a complete waste of our being human?
Now, to go back to my friend’s FB post, we all know, without a doubt, that all Life is uncertain. And inscrutable. When you have clarity on why you are here, why you are going through this human experience, you can live Life better. It is when you are confused that you are confounded. That’s how you end up suffering. Let me explain. When you think of your Life’s Purpose as only making money or as being successful or famous, and when these things don’t happen or if they happen but also don’t stay with you permanently, then you are unhappy, then you suffer. But if you realize that, despite your having money or not, despite being successful or not, despite being famous or not, your Life’s Purpose is only to serve, only to make this world a better place, then you can only be happy. Simple.
So, clarity of Purpose is crucial to help us along the journey of Life. When there is an awareness of the why of your creation, when there is Purpose, your Life matters. And only the presence of what matters to you can make you happy!