Lessons I never learnt

Reflection time, yet again! I suspect I suffer from these periodic depressions because I see time is running out for me, and I am getting older, without achieving much with my life. Don’t get me wrong – it is not about money – I don’t feel insecure in the least, but this is more about ‘what’s the point’ feeling, a soul-search on why I am doing what I am doing, perhaps very typical, mid-career blue.

In any case, today, when I was midst of one bout of depression, and coincidentally was blessed with a longish and solitary train journey, I started thinking about my grandfather. If I rate people who have influenced my life, he will come up on the top. And, today, I was thinking about the lessons I should have learnt from him, but never did – at least till today’s train journey.

Lesson 1: Work’s worth
He had a long life, but he never retired. He was never employed, either. Starting up at an early age in a business set up by his father, he attended office till he was 85 and got paralysed after a heart attack. He ran his business from his bed thereafter, and inspected the books last time the day before he died. Despite disabilities, his eyes failed him and he could not walk, he ran the business successfully and commanded its operations completely, something I would always envy him for. He found meaning in his work, he loved it. On the contrary, I wanted to set up a business so that I can retire early.

Lesson 2: My First English Sentence
I never took it seriously, but the first English saying I learnt was from him – Cut your coat according to your cloth. I probably never thought about it much. I started my first venture in the middle of dotcom, and always planned for Venture Capital in my business plans – I never succeeded, and I know why.

Lesson 3: How not to fear the taxmen
One of the funniest things about my grandfather was that he always paid his taxes in full. Funny, because in India, it isn’t common, and considered stupid. Perhaps, he overpaid. I do remember when we were threatened with an income tax raid, how calm he remained because he knew he was clear. He was angry at the suggestion made by taxmen that he can be let off with a small bribe – he challenged them to find anything wrong, and they could not. Contrast that with me – I earn a fraction of what he did, spend quite a bit more paying accountants, and yes, possibility of a tax raid would have given my nightmares.

Lesson 4: Bite what you can chew
I remember my grandfather turning down an order because it was too big for him. It created outrage in our family. I personally think it was not right – business is all about balancing your financial options and growing continuously. Being a man of his own principles, he never had time for these arguments – he stuck to ‘bite what you can chew’. Again, I am not sure I am right – bringing in banks or other investors may not be the best thing for businesses all the time. Especially if I love what I am doing, especially if the work is worth it, and I am not working just for the sake of retirement, I shall never turn to an investor or a bank.

Lesson 5: Demanding respect
It is my stated ambition to get into politics at some stage. Here I skipped a lesson too – my grandfather never voted. His objection was the black ink mark that is put on your fingers once you cast your vote, and he felt insulted by this. We argued about this for hours, I was all energy about democratic rights, but he will rubbish my arguments saying that if you can not trust your citizens, there is no point in letting them vote. I guess he is right. In a world where vote is considered to be the panacea of all social ills [certainly a very influential group of Americans and Britons think so], whether some societies are less ready for democracy is a blasphemous question. However, democracy without basic citizenship rights is bound to degenerate, as many African and Asian countries stand as example.

There are many more things from his strange world, a world which does not exist anymore. He belonged to last century, BDC, before Dot Com. I chose not to join the family business, because I found that too limiting, and pursued a global career instead.

But, today, in the train, at this very moment, when I felt confused, doubtful and unsure, I thought about these lessons which I should have, perhaps, taken from him.


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