Saturday Story 22: Arise, Awake
“Welcome aboard”, said the smiling air hostess.
Deep Joshi scowled back, and walked through the aisle. He was not in the best of moods. The travel agent had booked him in economy – there were no business class seats available. But the matter was urgent, there was no other choice.
“Gosh!” he thought to himself as he squeezed in to the window seat. “So bloody cramped.”
The plane was filling up. Executives, businessmen, students, young mothers, grandmothers, even a few wailing kids. Deep braced himself for a noisy flight.
He picked up the newspaper from the seat pocket, bending his elbows so that he could hold it.
Just as he started reading, a mellow voice said, “I am looking for 10 A.”
Deep looked up to see an young monk, dressed in a long maroon robe, smiling down at him. Deep checked his own boarding card – “Shit! I am in the wrong seat.”
“Sorry,” he said gruffly. “I will shift.”
“It’s all right,” said the monk and occupied the middle seat without any fuss.
Deep was taken aback. He would never give up a window seat, that too for a stranger.
The plane was further delayed, which gave Deep the time to make a few calls. The conversations were full of tension. There was a problem with land acquisition for the new factory.
“Increase the compensation amount,” he had instructed Boro Phukan, the man on the ground.
But the agitators were not taking the bait.
“Some environmental group from Delhi has also joined the cause,” said a worried Phukan.
A delay in setting up the plant would be disastrous for the company. Permissions were in place, loans were approved. Already, there were rumours in the market.
“Our share price fell by 2% yesterday,” the CFO had informed him.
Deep was glad when the plane took off. A couple of hours of respite. He closed his eyes and tried to think about something else. An image of his 2 year old daughter came to his mind.
“Your daughter Sunaina has beautiful eyes,” said a familiar voice.
Startled, Deep opened his eyes, to see a vaguely familiar face – the monk. Do I know this man? I have seen him somewhere… But how the hell does he know about my daughter?
“Brother, you have achieved so much at a young age. Your parents are no longer here but they would be so proud.”
This was too much – the guy was like an X-ray machine – reading his very mind!
“Your company is in a high position but you have some crucial decisions to make now….”
As the monk spoke, Deep felt a sense of agitation. The words came tumbling out from inside. He related everything to this stranger who seemed to know everything.
“I am under so much pressure… from my board, from the bank, from my investors.”
All they wanted was better performance, better returns. Words like EBITDA, EPS and ROI were doing a tandav dance in his head.
“Sometimes I want to leave everything and become sanyasi like you,” said Deep. The monk smiled. It was not the first time he was hearing these words.
“You cannot get peace of mind by running away from your problems…”
Deep sighed. Of course, he knew that already. No easy way out, is there?
Suddenly, the monk exclaimed, “Do you know why you are unhappy?”
Too much work, too many expectations. Too much to do, too little time.
The monk shook his head. “You are unhappy because you are taking too much, and giving so little.”
Now, Deep was annoyed. Taking too much? All he had done for the past 15 years was give his best to the company. To make the best products. Grab the higher market share.
He had not given himself permission to relax, to take his eye off the target, for a single minute.
As he mulled over the direction his life had taken, the monk posed another question.
“What is the salary of your driver,” he asked..
“Rs 10,000 per month,” said Deep
“And what is your monthly salary?”
“Rs 10 lakh,” replied Deep, with a tinge of pride.
“You earn a hundred times more but are you really a hundred smarter than Ramu kaka?”
My God, what kind of question was that? How could anyone compare him with a driver! An IIT-IIM graduate, topper throughout his life. Holding two international patents. CEO of a Rs 2000 crore company built from scratch.
And yet, Deep hesitated. Was he really a hundred times smarter than everyone else?
“I don’t know swamiji….” he replied.
“Search for the answer and you will find it,” came the enigmatic reply.
The next moment, Deep felt a tap on his shoulder. It was the air-hostess, asking him to fasten his seatbelt. The plane was about to land.
The seat next to him was empty. No sign of the monk…
“Where is the gentleman who was sitting next to me?” he sputtered to the air hostess.
She gave him a strange look.
“Sir, you are mistaken. The seat was unoccupied throughout.”
Deep recalled his instruction to the travel agent – if one had to suffer economy, at least spare me the co-passengers. Accordingly, he had booked the entire row.
It had all been a dream… a strange and unusual dream. The stress was getting to him, perhaps.
At the airport, Boro Phukan was waiting to receive him. As they sped past the city and into the hinterland, the scenery changed from brown to green.
“Tell me, Phukan – what is your monthly salary?” asked Deep, interrupting the silence.
Phukan was surprised. Bade sahab never personal questions, he was always focussed on work.
“Mmm around 15 thousand per month,” he replied, with hesitation.
“Tell me – ghar mein kaun kaun hain?” asked Deep.
“Ma, pitaji, biwi, do bachche… My daughter is in class 8, I send her to English medium school,” said Phukan with obvious pride.
“Kharcha chal jaata hai?”
Oho, what kind of question was that? Of course, money was never enough. Medicines for baba, tuitions and school fees, rising cost of food. And EMI for the small flat they had purchased.
“Thoda mushkil hai… par ho jata hai.”
For the first time, Deep noticed Phukan’s well-worn chappals, his tattered attache case, his cheap haircut. He saves every penny he can, this man. So he can provide for his family.
Everybody is like Phukan, except a few lucky people, like me.
In a flash, Deep knew exactly what he had to do.
“Take me to the site Phukan… I want to meet these people. I want to know unko kya takleef hai!”
Deep Joshi spent the next 3 days far-removed from his usual world. The simple tribal folk knew nought about profit and loss but they were wise beyond words, about the forest. The trees and the bees, the herbs and the leaves – their knowledge went far beyond the book.
The IIT-IIM graduate felt humbled. The money he was offering was merely paper.
I am a thief, stealing their way of life. Stealing from nature.
Over the next few days, Deep Joshi modified his business plan. Which he announced to the board, with some trepidation. He proposed to acquire additional land but not to build a factory.
“We will build an eco-tourism resort – employing some of the tribal youth. It can be a CSR activity but also a new line of business.”
To his surprise, the board readily agreed. The new resort would be built like a tribal village, using traditional materials. Serving local food, retailing their handicrafts.
“The elders are happy,” reported Phukan, a few weeks later. “They are co-operating with us.”
“How is your daughter doing in school?” asked Deep.
“Oh very well, sir, thank you, sab aapki kripa hai.”
Just a month ago, Deep had instituted a scholarship fund of Rs 10 lakh. Children of his employees were the first beneficiaries.
I could have done this much earlier…
On his way back home that evening, he idly typed the words ‘hundred times smarter + swamiji’ in google search on his iPhone 11. He clicked on the first result which popped up.
Staring back at him was a young monk with piercing eyes. The same monk he had seen in that dream. Swami Vivekananda.
The link went on to narrate a story about a meeting which took place in Chicago, in 1893. It read as follows:
Swami Vivekananda sailed from India to USA to attend the Parliament of Religions, where his speech made a great impact on minds and hearts of people. He was staying at the home of Madam Emma Calve, when he had an unexpected visitor.
This visitor was a very successful man, who had made a fortune in the oil business. He came not out of respect but curiosity. Who was this young monk who had electrified the people of Chicago? Let me see for myself.
When Rockefeller entered the room, Swamiji did not even look up, he continued his work. Rockefeller was not used to being treated like a commoner.
As they began conversing, it became apparent that Rockefeller was a very rich man. Swamiji posed him a question, “If you have much more money than other people, do you think you are much smarter than other people?”
Rockefeller replied, “Of course. I am a hundred times smarter.”
Vivekananda disagreed. “You may, perhaps, be three times smarter. but you have made a hundred times more money. Think about it.”
Swamji waited for his words to sink in. And then continued.
“Perhaps you are merely an instrument through which this money has to go back to somebody else… Why don’t you consider leaving some of your money for other people ”
Rockefeller found this idea ridiculous and walked out in a huff.
But three weeks later, he came back to see Swami Vivekananda. This time he came he threw on his table a piece of paper – money pledged to some noble cause.
This was the first-ever charitable donation by John D. Rockefeller.
That day he asked swamiji, with some arrogance, “Are you happy now that I have done this?”
Swamiji responded, “Why should I be happy? Ask yourself whether you have left enough out of the total wealth that you have?”
Nobody remembers the business Rockefeller set up – he is remembered only for his endowments. Not what he built but what he gave away.
Deep Joshi had found his answer.
I may or may not be three times smarter but I can surely be a hundred times more generous.
“I should travel in economy class more often,” he winked to the picture of Swami Vivekananda glowing on his mobile screen.
He is certain the picture winked back.
Don’t miss the audio file Inside the Author’s Mind: Why I wrote ‘Arise Awake’.