Yesterday, I participated in an extempore competition which was organised by Development Management Institute, Patna. This was organised to mark the Drucker-Kurien week, where I bagged the 1st prize and came across a wonderful biography of Sir Verghese Kurien as my award. I first didn’t pay much heed, however when I started reading this book, the first 5 pages were enough to make me sit and feel like witnessing a new dawn and the new sun. In the starting pages, sir Verghese has written a note to his grandson Siddharth, which is extremely powerful and motivating. So I thought, why not share it with our readers and
My dear Siddhartha,
When did I write to you last? I have trouble even remembering! In today’s fast-paced world we have become so addicted to instant communication that we prefer to use telephone. But speaking on the telephone only gives us an immediate and fleeting joy. Writing is different. Writing – even if it is a letter – not only conveys our present concerns and views of the events taking place around us but it becomes a possession that can be treasured and re-read over the years, with great, abiding pleasure.
What is contained in the chapters that follow is, of course, more than a letter. You may not wish to read it all right away but, perhaps, a couple of decades or more from now, you will pick up these jottings of mine again and they will give you a deeper understanding of what I have done, and the reasons I pursued a life of service to our nation’s farmers.you will then discover in them a valuable reminder of the days just before the world entered the twenty-first century. And you may want to share my memories with those of your generation, or even younger, to provide them a glimpse of the world your grandparents lived in and knew.
I started my working life soon after our country became independent. The noblest task in those days was to contribute in whatever way we could towards building an India of our dreams – a nation where our people would not only hold their heads high in freedom but would be free from hunger and poverty. A nation where our people could live with equal respect and love for one another. A nation that would eventually be counted among the foremost nations of the world. It was then that I realised, in all humility, that choosing to lead one kind of life means putting aside the desire to pursue other options. This transformation took place within me fifty years ago, when I agreed to work for a small cooperative of dairy farmers who were trying to gain control over their lives.
To be quite honest, service to our nation’s farmers was not the career I had envisioned for myself. But somehow, a series of events swept me along and put me in a certain place at a certain time when I had to choose between one option or another. I was faced with a choice that would transform my life. I could have pursued a career in metallurgy and perhaps become the chief executive of a large company. Or, I could have adopted for a commission in the Indian Army and maybe retired as a general. Or, I could have left for the US and gone on to be a highly successful NRI. Yet I chose none of these because somewhere, deep down, I knew I could make a more meaningful contribution by working here in Anand, Gujarat.
Your grandmother too made an important choice. She knew, in those early days, life in Anand could not offer even the simple comforts that we take for granted today. However, she ardently supported my choice to live and work in Anand. That choice of your grandmother to stand by me has given me an everlasting strength, always ensuring that I shouldered my responsibilities with poise.
Whenever I have received any recognition for my contributions towards the progress of our country, I have always emphasized that it is a recognition of the achievements of many people with whom I had the privilege to be associated with. I would like to stress even more strongly that my contributions have been possible only because I have consistently adhered to certain core values. Values that I inherited from my parents and other family elders; values that I saw in my mentor and supporter here in Anand – Tribhuvandas Patel. I have often spoken of integrity – and personal integrity, at that – is being honest to yourself. If you are always honest to yourself, it does not take much effort in always being honest with others.
I have also learnt what I am sure, you too, will find out someday. Life is a privilege and to waste it would be wrong. In living this privilege called ‘Life’, you must accept responsibility for yourself, always use your talents to the best of your ability and contribute somehow to the common good. That common good will present itself to you in many forms everyday. If you just look around you, you will find there is a lot writing to be done: your friend may need some help, your teacher could be looking for a volunteer, or the community you live in will need you to make a contribution. I hope that you, too, will discover, as I did, that failure is not about not succeeding. Rather, it is about not putting your best effort and not contributing, however modestly, to the common good.
In life you, too, will discover, as I did, that anything can go wrong at any time and mostly does. Yet, there is little correlation between the circumstances of people’s lives and how happy they are. Most of us compare ourselves with someone we think is happier – a relative, an acquaintance, or often, someone we barely know. But when we start looking closely we realise that what we saw were only images of perfection. And that will help us understand and cherish what we have, rather than what we don’t have.
Do you remember when you accompanied me to the magnificent ceremony in Delhi in which our President awarded me the Padma Vibhushan in 1999? With great pride, you slipped the medal around your neck, looked at it in awe and asked me very innocently if you could keep it. Do you remember the answer your grandmother and I gave you? We told you that of course, this medal was yours as much as it was mine but that you should not be satisfied in merely keeping my awards – the challenge before you was to earn your own rewards for the work that you did in your lifetime.
And in the end, if we are brave enough to love, strong enough to rejoice in another’s happiness and wise enough to know that there is enough to go around for all, then we would have lived our lives to the fullest.
I would like to dedicate these musings to you, Siddharth, and to the millions of other children of your generation in our country, in the hope that upon reading them you will be inspired enough to go bravely out into your world and work tirelessly in your chosen field for the larger good of the country and humanity. Remember, the rewards that come to you then are the only true rewards for a life well-spent.