Corporate model for Islamic Da’awa – Problems & Solutions

All praise and thanks are due only to Allahﷻ alone and peace and salutations on our Master Muhammadﷺ, the last and final messenger of Allahﷻ.

قَدْ كَانَتْ لَكُمْ أُسْوَةٌ حَسَنَةٌ فِي إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَالَّذِينَ مَعَهُ إِذْ قَالُوا لِقَوْمِهِمْ إِنَّا بُرَاء مِنكُمْ وَمِمَّا تَعْبُدُونَ مِن دُونِ اللَّهِ كَفَرْنَا بِكُمْ وَبَدَا بَيْنَنَا وَبَيْنَكُمُ الْعَدَاوَةُ وَالْبَغْضَاء أَبَدًا حَتَّى تُؤْمِنُوا بِاللَّهِ وَحْدَهُ إِلَّا قَوْلَ إِبْرَاهِيمَ لِأَبِيهِ لَأَسْتَغْفِرَنَّ لَكَ وَمَا أَمْلِكُ لَكَ مِنَ اللَّهِ مِن شَيْءٍ رَّبَّنَا عَلَيْكَ تَوَكَّلْنَا وَإِلَيْكَ أَنَبْنَا وَإِلَيْكَ الْمَصِيرُ

Mumtahina 60:4. 4. Indeed there has been an excellent example for you in Ibrahim (Abraham) and those with him, when they said to their people: “Verily, we are free from you and whatever you worship besides Allah, we have rejected you, and there has started between us and you, hostility and hatred for ever, until you believe in Allah Alone,” except the saying of Ibrahim (Abraham) to his father: “Verily, I will ask for forgiveness (from Allah) for you, but I have no power to do anything for you before Allah . Our Rabb! In You (Alone) we put our trust, and to You (Alone) we turn in repentance, and to You (Alone) is (our) final Return.

As you are all aware I live in two incarnations simultaneously – as a corporate consultant and leadership development expert with a global clientele, author of several books on the subject and having trained more than 200,000 managers, administrators, clergy, teachers, scientists, engineers and students worldwide and still counting; and as a Da’aee of Islam. While appreciating and being deeply grateful for all the honor and love that is bestowed upon me by people as a result of the Grace of my Rabb, I don’t accept all the titles that I am normally given when I speak at Islamic gatherings as I don’t consider myself worthy of any of them.

I begin this paper with this introduction to convince you that you must take me seriously. What I am going to say must be seen for what it is – a practitioner speaking. Not someone who has read a few books or someone who is an academic teaching either corporate or theological theory – but as someone who has read more than a few books, has written several books himself and who teaches and has practiced his teachings for more than 27 years and who is consulted by global corporations, business families and entrepreneurs worldwide. So, when I say something it is not merely theory. It is theory in practice.

It is the learning that I acquired by practicing that theory in multiple situations and reflection on it and an understanding emerging from it – in the light of the Qur’an and Sunnah, Seerah and Islamic history – all of which I have also had the privilege to study in my other incarnation. If I tell you about a stream, it is there, and the water is good to drink. But of course, to drink or not is your choice. Of horses and water – if you see what I mean.

There are five principle differences and contradictions between corporate theory and the work of Da’awa of Islam which make it a very unsuitable model to use. I don’t mean using tools of measurement and so on. I mean the whole philosophy of Organization Development that is being used by most modern Da’awa organizations in the West. These are:

  1. Seeing is believing versus Belief in the Unseen
  2. Source of power is wealth versus Source of power is Allahﷻ.
  3. All those in my work are Competitors versus all those in my work are Partners
  4. Inviting towards self; versus inviting towards Allahﷻ
  5. Accumulation of wealth versus Baraka

Allahﷻ said about His Anbiya:

أُوْلَـئِكَ الَّذِينَ هَدَى اللّهُ فَبِهُدَاهُمُ اقْتَدِهْ قُل لاَّ أَسْأَلُكُمْ عَلَيْهِ أَجْرًا إِنْ هُوَ إِلاَّ ذِكْرَى لِلْعَالَمِينَ

An’am 6: 90.   They are those whom Allah had guided. So follow their guidance. Say: “No reward I ask of you for this (the Qur’an). It is only a reminder for the ‘Alamin (worlds).”

Allahﷻ said to His Messengerﷺ about his work:

قُلْ هَـذِهِ سَبِيلِي أَدْعُو إِلَى اللّهِ عَلَى بَصِيرَةٍ أَنَاْ وَمَنِ اتَّبَعَنِي وَسُبْحَانَ اللّهِ وَمَا أَنَاْ مِنَ الْمُشْرِكِينَ

Yusuf 12: 108.       Say (O Muhammad): “This is my way; I invite unto Allah  with sure knowledge, I and whosoever follows me (also must invite others to Allah with sure knowledge). And Glorified and Exalted be Allah (above all that they associate as partners with Him). And I am not of the Mushrikun (polytheists).”

I want to first state some basic premises that I hold to be true.

  1. That the best method of Da’awa is the method of the Anbiya because they were chosen, trained and guided directly by Allahﷻ Himself and so our method can’t possibly be better than theirs, no matter which age we live in.
  2. That Insha’Allah the Niyyah of the people involved in these efforts and organizations is good and they mean well and are trying to do their best.
  3. My purpose is not to criticize but to try to assist them in their work.
  4. Any Da’awa organization that wants my professional advice (Inc.1) can have it for the asking – as those who know me, know already.

Let us examine each of the principles contradictions I listed above and see how it contradicts with the basic Qur’anic principles of Da’awa, the work of the Anbiya of Allahﷻ.

Seeing is believing versus Belief in the Unseen

The basis of this Deen of ours is Imaan bil Ghayb (Belief in the Unperceivable). The basis of corporate theory and indeed all Western secular thought is ‘seeing is believing.’

This is the foundation of our faith and of our difference. Let us remember that almost all current, modern Western thought is secular – the denial of God. And so is seriously hampered and handicapped in understanding reality, i.e. the issues of Imaan bil Ghayb. For them, the Unseen (actually the Unperceivable, not merely ‘unseen’) doesn’t exist, except where they wish to acknowledge its presence as in radio waves, UV radiation and other things which are unseen but which they accept the presence of based on their effects on the environment. However, it is a contradiction which shows up their double standards that they deny their own method when it comes to Allahﷻ. They will not accept the presence of Allahﷻ based on His signs. Neither will they accept that there is a life after death or that there is an accounting for our actions before the One who knows all that we do.

Be that as it may, this is not the subject of our discussion here, but I think it is important to keep this in mind before swallowing all Western thought or philosophy, hook, line and sinker because we are so much in awe of it. Since I am one of those who has not only studied in that system but have written books about it and teach in some of their highest institutions, my eyes, by the Grace of Allahﷻ are open to the dangerous delusions on which their principles are based and I am keenly aware of the fallacy of their methods and of the misery and suffering that their single-minded pursuit of power and wealth has unleashed on the world.

I began with the Ayah from Sura Al-Mumtahina which I believe is an Ayah that lays down the law and draws the lines as far as the methodology of the Anbiya is concerned. I have highlighted the beautiful dua of Ibrahimy where he stands out clearly for Allahﷻ and against Ghairulla and then makes this beautiful dua.

What is Tawakkul?

Tawakkul is the most critical requirement for anyone who intends to do the work of Da’awa because this was the foundation of the work of the Anbiya. Tawakkul begins where all logical expectations, survey results, predictions, prognoses and scenarios end. Tawakkul is the essence of Yaqeen, it is the proof of Imaan and it is the result of a connection with Allahﷻ and can come only as a result of it. It is the thing that Allahﷻ requires us to demonstrate before the doors of His bounty are opened for us.

Let me tell you a story to illustrate what I mean.

The story is of a mountain climber, who wanted to climb the highest mountain. He began his adventure after many years of preparation, but since he wanted the glory just for himself, he decided to climb the mountain alone. He started to climb but it began to get very late, and instead of taking a break and camping, he kept climbing until it got very dark. The night felt heavy in the heights of the mountain, and the man could not see anything. All was black. Zero visibility, and the moon and the stars were covered by the clouds.

As he was climbing, perhaps only a few feet away from the top of the mountain, he suddenly slipped and fell, falling toward s the earth at a great speed. The climber could only see black spots as he went down, and the terrible sensation of being sucked by gravity. He kept falling… and in those moments of terror, there came to his mind all the good and bad episodes of his life. He thought about how close death was getting, when all of a sudden, the rope snagged, and he was brought up with a huge jerk.

So, there he was, hanging from his rope in mid-air. Only the rope was holding him, and in that moment of stillness he had no other choice but to scream: HELP ME GOD!!

All of a sudden, a deep voice coming from the sky answered: ‘What do you want me to do?’

“Save me God!!” he screamed

‘Do you really think I can save you?’

“Of course,” he screamed. “Only You can save me.”

‘Then cut the rope,’ said the voice.

The next morning the rescue team found the climber, frozen to death, his hands holding tightly to the rope; hanging just six feet from the ground.

Tawakkul is to cut the rope.

Allahﷻ mentioned Tawakkul and made it a condition and sign of Imaan. He said:

وَعَلَى اللّهِ فَتَوَكَّلُواْ إِن كُنتُم مُّؤْمِنِينَ

Ma’aida 5:23…. and put your trust in Allah if you are believers indeed

He also said:

وَعلَى اللّهِ فَلْيَتَوَكَّلِ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ

Ibrahim 14:11             And in Allah (Alone) let the believers put their trust.

وَيَرْزُقْهُ مِنْ حَيْثُ لَا يَحْتَسِبُ وَمَن يَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى اللَّهِ فَهُوَ حَسْبُهُ إِنَّ اللَّهَ بَالِغُ أَمْرِهِ قَدْ جَعَلَ اللَّهُ لِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدْرًا

Talaaq 65:3.    And He will provide him from (sources) he never could imagine. And whosoever puts his trust in Allah, then He will suffice him. Verily, Allah will accomplish his purpose. Indeed Allah has set a measure for all things.

Tawakkul is to take risk; to bet on Allahﷻ and to do it from a position of absolute Yaqeen (faith) and not simply knowledge. The most reliable criterion of Yaqeen is the ability to take risk. To be able to cut the rope. To discard Al-Asbaab-ul-Adna (lower means – resources, worldly means) in favor of Al-Asbaab-ul-A’ala (highest means – Sabr was Salah). Because those are the Asbaab (means) that Allahﷻ told us to seek when faced with difficulty. How much more, when this difficulty is in the cause of His Deen? He said:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ اسْتَعِينُواْ بِالصَّبْرِ وَالصَّلاَةِ إِنَّ اللّهَ مَعَ الصَّابِرِينَ

Baqara 2:153. O you who believe! Seek help in patience and As-Salat (the prayer). Truly! Allah is with As-Sabirin (the patient)

He also said:

الَّذِينَ إِذَا ذُكِرَ اللَّهُ وَجِلَتْ قُلُوبُهُمْ وَالصَّابِرِينَ عَلَى مَا أَصَابَهُمْ وَالْمُقِيمِي الصَّلَاةِ وَمِمَّا رَزَقْنَاهُمْ يُنفِقُونَ

Haj 22:35. Whose hearts are filled with fear when Allah is mentioned; who patiently bear whatever may befall them (of calamities); and who establish As-Salat, and who spend (in Allah’s Cause) out of what We have provided them.

Remember when I am talking about taking risk and discarding Al-Asbaab-ul-Adna I am not saying that you have to completely reject all worldly means forever. I mean that for our worldly work to succeed we need the connection with Allahﷻ. It was the order of Allahﷻ which made Musa (AS)’s stick, a snake and an Ayah from Allahﷻ. Musa (AS) then didn’t leave the stick behind. He took it with him but now with a different perspective. Having understood the lesson; that all good and harm can only come from Allahﷻ and that any means in itself is powerless to do anything for us, Musa (AS) picked up his stick and used it as ordered by Allahﷻ.

However, as the Kalima Tayyiba begins with Nafi (denial) of all those who are considered worthy of worship and then goes on to the Isbaath (affirmation) that Allahﷻ alone is worthy of worship; for Tawakkul to happen one first needs to remove all faith and reliance from anything material before one can connect with Allahﷻ. It is like the electrician cleaning the wires and removing all oxidation and other impurities before splicing them onto the power cable because he understands that otherwise the impurities will interfere with the flow of current. So also, all reliance on material things has to be cut off before we can join with Allahﷻ. This is the Sunnah of Allahﷻ with respect to all His Anbiya where He took away all worldly resources before He helped them directly by His power, so that the world would be able to see the power of Allahﷻ clearly in action. Same rule applies to this day. So, have faith.

In the famous words of Barbara Winters: ‘When you come to the end of the light of all that you know and are about to step off into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing that one of two things will happen; there will be something firm to stand on, or you will be taught how to fly.’

What powerful words which describe Tawakkul like nothing else. Notice please that she uses the word, ‘knowing’ and not ‘believing’. Knowing is certainty, Yaqeen. Belief can be wrong. But what one knows with certainty is true. Islam is to believe with certainty that which we can’t see.

The picture in my mind whenever I read these words is of a man coming to the edge of the cliff and stepping off to walk on air to the other side, confident in the knowledge that the One helping Him makes the rules. The One who makes the rules is not bound by them. Tawakkul is to understand this experientially in the deepest part of one’s being so that when the man comes to the edge of the abyss, he smiles to himself and walks on, without the slightest hesitation in his stride.

The first thing to ask ourselves therefore is, ‘What is my connection with Allahﷻ?’ ‘Where is my reliance? On Allahﷻ  alone or on the means?’ Reliance on Asbaab is shirk.

Remember O! People there is no stopping the one who Allahﷻ takes forward and there is no going forward for the one who wants to go without the help of Allahﷻ. I know we will never say the latter publicly, but our actions speak louder than words. So, let’s see what we do.

A quick self-test is to see how many times the following words/phrases are mentioned in your internal organizational meetings: Allahﷻ, Tawakkul, Hidaya, Ikhlaas-un-Niyyah, Ridha’a of Allahﷻ, changes in the lives of students, market share, profit, income from conferences, number of students attending courses, brand building, exposure to the environment and people, mention in news, TV, press, competition and what to do to them and all similar stuff. Sit with a pen and paper and count. You’ll know. And remember that we don’t have to convince anyone about this. Allahﷻ knows if we are being truthful or not and our results will show up the truth soon enough.

Source of power is wealth versus Source of power is Allah.

In the corporate world the focus of all effort is revenue. This comes either through the sale of products and services or through voluntary fund-raising efforts. The more money, consumers or customers you have, the more products and services you sell, the more successful you are deemed to be. When that happens, you shout about it from the rooftops, your face appears on the cover of Fortune magazine, you are the guest in famous talk shows on TV and you are the toast of the town. You are highly visible, you are a ‘Brand’. You are the king of the world and the world wants to shake your hand. All of course until the next quarterly results.

In the work of Da’awa however none of these are criteria of success. On the other hand, success is determined by your connection with Allahﷻ, the amount of effort you made and the quality of your humility and repentance. Allahﷻ said about this:

يَا أَيُّهَا الْمُزَّمِّلُ

قُمِ اللَّيْلَ إِلَّا قَلِيلًا

نِصْفَهُ أَوِ انقُصْ مِنْهُ قَلِيلًا

أَوْ زِدْ عَلَيْهِ وَرَتِّلِ الْقُرْآنَ تَرْتِيلًا

إِنَّا سَنُلْقِي عَلَيْكَ قَوْلًا ثَقِيلًا

إِنَّ نَاشِئَةَ اللَّيْلِ هِيَ أَشَدُّ وَطْءًا وَأَقْوَمُ قِيلًا

Muzammil 73:1-6      1. O you wrapped in garments (Prophet Muhammadﷺ)   2. Stand (to pray) all night, except a little. 3. Half of it, or a little less than that, 4. Or a little more; and recite the Qur’an (aloud) in a slow, (pleasant tone and) style. 5. Verily, We shall send down to you a weighty Word. 6. Verily, the rising by night (for Tahajjud prayer) is very hard but most potent and good for governing (the soul), and most suitable for (understanding) the Word (of Allah).

Allahﷻ taught His Messengerﷺ the method of doing Da’awa. He asked him to first build his connection with his Rabb and to stand in Salah in the night and recite the Qur’an and said that the rising in the night for Tahajjud was essential to develop discipline and to understand His Kalaam. One question that we in the work of Da’awa must ask ourselves is, ‘How many of my people (including and starting with myself) pray Tahajjud regularly and weep before Allahﷻ and beg for the success of their work? How many are strict followers of the Shari’ah? How many closely follow the Sunnah?’ Personal piety is a pre-condition of success in the work of Deen. If our people are not regular in Tahajjud (notice I am not even mentioning the Fara’idh because to me those are a given), reading the Qur’an, extreme care about Halaal and Haraam, strict compliance with the Sunnah and spending in the cause of Allahﷻ, then we are doomed to failure.

Let us remember that our Rabb doesn’t need us. We need Him. We are not doing Him a favor by doing Da’awa. He is doing us a favor not only by giving us the Tawfeeq to do Da’awa but also by not holding us accountable for the numbers who come to Islam because of our effort. We need to get recruited for His work. We need to show to His satisfaction that we are deserving of the honor of doing His work. We need to convince Him to use us.

That is the only requirement. Once that happens, Allahﷻ will teach us what to do and will support us. Until that happens, no amount of worldly resources will help. The focus in Islam is on the Unseen (Unpercievable). The source of power is Allahﷻ and not material wealth. Material is to be used, like the shoe on your foot. Not to be placed on your head or held in your hand.

About making effort for the sake of Allahﷻ unmindful of the number of people who respond to those efforts Allahﷻ gave us the example of Nuh (AS). He said:

قَالَ رَبِّ إِنِّي دَعَوْتُ قَوْمِي لَيْلًا وَنَهَارًا

فَلَمْ يَزِدْهُمْ دُعَائِي إِلَّا فِرَارًا

وَإِنِّي كُلَّمَا دَعَوْتُهُمْ لِتَغْفِرَ لَهُمْ جَعَلُوا أَصَابِعَهُمْ فِي آذَانِهِمْ وَاسْتَغْشَوْا ثِيَابَهُمْ وَأَصَرُّوا وَاسْتَكْبَرُوا اسْتِكْبَارًا

ثُمَّ إِنِّي دَعَوْتُهُمْ جِهَارًا

ثُمَّ إِنِّي أَعْلَنتُ لَهُمْ وَأَسْرَرْتُ لَهُمْ إِسْرَارًا

Nooh 71:5. He said: “O my Rabb! Verily, I have called my people night and day (i.e. secretly and openly), 6. “But all my calling added nothing but to (their) flight (from the truth). 7. “And verily! Every time I called unto them that You might forgive them, they thrust their fingers into their ears, covered themselves up with their garments, and persisted (in their refusal), and magnified themselves in pride. 8. “Then verily, I called to them openly (aloud); 9. Then verily, I proclaimed to them in public, and I have appealed to them in private.”

But the result of this was colossal ‘failure’ in our modern terms. He did this for not a few days, months or years but for 9 ½ centuries because of which less than 100 people accepted Islam. May Allahﷻ forgive us but going by our modern standards; he is not the sort of person we would like to invite to our international conferences.

Take the case of our own Master Muhammadﷺ. In 13 years of intensive, full time work, day and night, he managed to get less than 100 followers. Once again…okay I won’t complete my sentence. But you do get the message, I hope.

But what was the status of Nooh with Allahﷻ? Allahﷻ quoted his example for us to follow and told us how many years he did his Da’awa and under what conditions. Let us remember that ultimately it is not how many students came to your class or what kind of feedback you got but whether Allah accepted your work or not, which will count. And that we will know only when we stand before Him.

And that is why Allahﷻ taught us what to do even when we are visibly successful.

إِذَا جَاء نَصْرُ اللَّهِ وَالْفَتْحُ

وَرَأَيْتَ النَّاسَ يَدْخُلُونَ فِي دِينِ اللَّهِ أَفْوَاجًا

فَسَبِّحْ بِحَمْدِ رَبِّكَ وَاسْتَغْفِرْهُ إِنَّهُ كَانَ تَوَّابًا

Nasr 110: 1-3 When comes the Help of Allah (to you, O Muhammad  against your enemies; conquest of Makkah), 2. And you see that the people enter Allah’s religion (Islam) in crowds, 3. So glorify the Praises of your Rabb, and ask for His Forgiveness. Verily, He is the One Who accepts the repentance and forgives.

Ask forgiveness when you are winning? No shouting from the rooftops? No prancing stallions, waving battle standards, blaring trumpets, beating drums. No TV, no public accolades, no prize distribution ceremonies. But sitting in the saddle, head bent so low that the forehead touches the saddle?  Behavior that is anathema to modern corporate R&R (Reward & Recognition). No beating the chest; instead repent, ask forgiveness, praise Allahﷻ and thank Him for His help. Ascribe the success where it belongs – to the Creator, not to the creature.

All those in my work are Competitors versus all those in my work are Partners

Corporate strategy is founded on the principle of ‘grabbing’ market share. Grabbing implies taking something away from others in an act of violence. Competition is defined as anyone in our line of business and all such must be neutralized and if possible, destroyed. So competitive strategy is focused not only on how to win ourselves but also on how to make the competitor lose.

In Islam and the work of Da’awa everyone in the work is a partner. Allahﷻ said:

إِذْ أَرْسَلْنَا إِلَيْهِمُ اثْنَيْنِ فَكَذَّبُوهُمَا فَعَزَّزْنَا بِثَالِثٍ فَقَالُوا إِنَّا إِلَيْكُم مُّرْسَلُونَ

Ya Seen 36:14.            When We sent to them two Messengers, they belied them both, so We reinforced them with a third, and they said: “Verily! We have been sent to you as Messengers.”

 The Messengers didn’t see each other as competitors. They were partners reinforcing one another. Ibrahim (AS) and Lut (AS) were both Anbiya at the same time. Ibrahim (AS) didn’t say, ‘It’s great that Lut is not successful in his work. It is good that there are no subscribers to his Da’awa.’ The Sahaba and Tabiyoon were contemporaries of one another. There is not a single instance where they acted as competitors in the matter of Da’awa.

Today however we see very little difference in the observable behavior of Islamic Da’awa organizations who act like Coke and Pepsi in their attempts to grab market share or at least to sabotage the efforts of their ‘competition’. This is completely against and contrary to the Sunnah of the Anbiya who Allahﷻ ordered us to follow.

I believe the reason lies in the title that is given to this ‘modern’ Da’awa – Commercial Da’awa. I find it very strange that nobody objects to this disgraceful title. Da’awa and commercial? The contrast doesn’t hit anyone? See what Allahﷻ said about the cardinal principle of the work of His Anbiya:

أُوْلَـئِكَ الَّذِينَ هَدَى اللّهُ فَبِهُدَاهُمُ اقْتَدِهْ قُل لاَّ أَسْأَلُكُمْ عَلَيْهِ أَجْرًا إِنْ هُوَ إِلاَّ ذِكْرَى لِلْعَالَمِينَ

An’am 6: 90.   They are those whom Allah had guided. So follow their guidance. Say: “No reward I ask of you for this (the Qur’an). It is only a reminder for the ‘Alamin (worlds).”

يَا قَوْمِ لا أَسْأَلُكُمْ عَلَيْهِ أَجْرًا إِنْ أَجْرِيَ إِلاَّ عَلَى الَّذِي فَطَرَنِي أَفَلاَ تَعْقِلُونَ

Hud 11: 51.    “O my people I ask of you no reward for it (the Message). My reward is only from Him, Who created me. Will you not then understand?

ذَلِكَ الَّذِي يُبَشِّرُ اللَّهُ عِبَادَهُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ قُل لَّا أَسْأَلُكُمْ عَلَيْهِ أَجْرًا إِلَّا الْمَوَدَّةَ فِي الْقُرْبَى وَمَن يَقْتَرِفْ حَسَنَةً نَّزِدْ لَهُ فِيهَا حُسْنًا إِنَّ اللَّهَ غَفُورٌ شَكُورٌ

 Shura 42: 23.   That is (Jannah) whereof Allah gives glad tidings to His slaves who believe and do righteous good deeds. Say (O Muhammad): “No reward do I ask of you for this except to be kind to me for my kinship with you.” And whoever earns a good righteous deed, We shall give him an increase of good in respect thereof. Verily, Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most ready to appreciate (deeds).

فَإِن تَوَلَّيْتُمْ فَمَا سَأَلْتُكُم مِّنْ أَجْرٍ إِنْ أَجْرِيَ إِلاَّ عَلَى اللّهِ وَأُمِرْتُ أَنْ أَكُونَ مِنَ الْمُسْلِمِينَ

Yunus 10:72.   “But if you turn away [from accepting Allah], then no reward have I asked of you, my reward is only from Allah, and I have been commanded to be one of the Muslims.”

قُلْ مَا سَأَلْتُكُم مِّنْ أَجْرٍ فَهُوَ لَكُمْ إِنْ أَجْرِيَ إِلَّا عَلَى اللَّهِ وَهُوَ عَلَى كُلِّ شَيْءٍ شَهِيدٌ

Saba 34: 47.    Say (O Muhammad): “Whatever wage I might have asked of you is yours. My wage is from Allah only. And He is Witness over all things.”

وَيَا قَوْمِ لا أَسْأَلُكُمْ عَلَيْهِ مَالاً إِنْ أَجْرِيَ إِلاَّ عَلَى اللّهِ وَمَآ أَنَاْ بِطَارِدِ الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ إِنَّهُم مُّلاَقُو رَبِّهِمْ وَلَـكِنِّيَ أَرَاكُمْ قَوْمًا تَجْهَلُونَ

Hud 11: 29.  “And O my people! I ask of you no wealth for it, my reward is from none but Allah. I am not going to drive away those who have believed. Surely, they are going to meet their Rabb, but I see that you are a people that are ignorant.

The Anbiya came to be obeyed and followed in all aspects of life and even more especially in their own work. Allahﷻ said about this:

أُوْلَـئِكَ الَّذِينَ هَدَى اللّهُ فَبِهُدَاهُمُ اقْتَدِهْ

An’am 6: 90    …They are those whom Allah had guided. So, follow their guidance.

So, whose guidance are we following when we call our work ‘Commercial Da’awa’? Whose guidance are we following when we take money to do the work of Da’awa? I mean especially those who take money to teach or speak at Islamic conferences. We have become like other motivational speakers on the so-called Speakers Circuit (may Allahﷻ forgive us, we even call it that) and charge fees to talk about the Glory of our Rabb. Isn’t this shameful to put it politely? Organizations we work for charge others fees to allow us to speak at their functions. And all of us, who claim to have an Islamic education, fail to see how we are doing this work of Da’awa directly against the basic foundational principle of Da’awa which Allahﷻ mentioned so many times in different ways but with the same meaning:

وَيَا قَوْمِ لا أَسْأَلُكُمْ عَلَيْهِ مَالاً إِنْ أَجْرِيَ إِلاَّ عَلَى اللّهِ

“And O my people! I ask of you no wealth for it, my reward is from none but Allah.

Money brings with it greed. And believe it or not, we are not protected from Shaytaan and so we compete like people selling Coke and Pepsi and use their language.

Thus, is the work of the Anbiya reduced to a commercial activity to be judged by the same standards that the sellers of bottled toilet cleaners use to judge themselves.

What lessons do we learn from the Seerah about the behavior of Rasoolullahﷺ even with his real enemies? Who do we seek reward from when we work for high salaries, prevent those who can’t pay our fee into our classes, will not speak unless there are 10,000 people in the audience and act like prima donnas? Is this the way to do the work of Anbiya? Then please find me one example of a Nabi who charged a fee to talk about the greatness of Allahﷻ.

The corporate world judges people by the salary they make. They reduce human talent and wisdom to a priced commodity based not on its efficacy or value but on how popular that person is with the public. We do the same and forget that with Allahﷻ popularity with the public is not a criterion at all. Salaries don’t buy dedication – something that our ‘commercial Da’awa’ organizations know too well. Dedication comes from being conscious of the value and majesty of this work and feeling blessed to be in it. A great example of modern times in the so-called Jamat Tabligh (I say, so-called because that is not their name for themselves), which has no paid positions at all, globally. It does no public fund raising at all. The people of Tabligh never ask for money. They only ask you to go out with them in their Jamat tours to invite others towards Islam. You can’t officially donate money to the Jamat. It has no website, no Facebook page, no Twitter, no nothing. Yet it is by far the largest and most powerful Da’awa organization in the world with members not in thousands but millions in every country on earth. It is not my purpose to go into the details of how this is possible to do but only to quote an example that is before us all to see. Maybe it has something to do with the number of them who stand in Tahajjud every day and cry for the Hidaya of the world.

‘What about Fund Raising?’ you ask. After all fund raising has become a major activity in itself with more and more innovative ways being invented to delve into the reluctant pocket. People are quick to quote from the Seerah the incident of Rasoolullahﷺ  raising money for Tabuk. Before I say something about that let me hasten to warn those who take examples from the Seerah to be very careful not to cherry-pick and then mould incidents from the Seerah to support their own activity. Rather to convert their activity to conform to the Seerah. The Seerah is for us to follow, not to use at will to justify ourselves and our actions. Cherry picking from the Seerah is dangerous because Allahﷻ told us to follow it entirely, not to cherry-pick as we wish. Tabuk is not a good example simply because Rasoolullahﷺ  was not raising funds to pay salaries of any organization. Nor was he raising funds to do social work, no matter how noble. He was raising funds for jihad, plain and simple.

However, Tabuk fund raising is a very good example to illustrate something that I have never heard anyone talk about – the basic principle of fund raising in Islam.

About fund raising of Tabuk the incident that is narrated most often is about the generosity of Abu Bakr Siddique (RA). What nobody mentions is the situation of Rasoolullahﷺ himself. What was the situation of Rasoolullahﷺ’s household when he stood up to ask for funds? Did he have wealth and sustenance stocked for his family? Or was he in the same state as Abu Bakr Siddique (RA)? The basic principle of fund raising in Islam is that the fund raiser first invests his entire wealth in the work of Allahﷻ’s Deen and only then asks for others to contribute. After all it makes sense to take advantage of all the good things that you remind others about when it comes to investing for the cause of Allahﷻ, if you truly believe what you say. My brothers and sisters, let me remind you that Allahﷻ’s Jannah is not cheap. Neither is the company of Anbiya on the Day of Judgment. It requires investment in this life. Which means that you will have to make a choice, scale down your lifestyles, contribute your own funds and work voluntarily. Allahﷻ will put Baraka in your lives and fill them with peace and tranquility which all the money in the world can’t buy. But you must do it yourself.

So how to raise funds? First remind yourself that the essence of Tawakkul is to know that the One who makes the rules is not bound by them.

Go to the fund raising and look at the people and say, ‘La ilaha ill-Allah’ there’s nobody who fulfils our needs but Allahﷻ. These people can’t even take a breath on their own. What can they do to help me? La hawla wala quwwata illa billa. Then make dua – ‘O Allahﷻ use them if you wish or give me directly because you don’t need to use anyone. And if you give directly I will sing your praises from the rooftops.’

Then first make the biggest contribution yourself before you ask anyone. Allahﷻ wants to see how much you believe in what you plan to say about the value of giving for His sake. If you believe in it, then prove it by giving first. Then offer them the opportunity – never ask, never beg, don’t lower your prestige because you are asking for Allahﷻ’s work. Offer them the opportunity for their own benefit. And leave it to Him to do what He wills. It is His work, and He promised to help those who help His cause. So, don’t lose any sleep.

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِن تَنصُرُوا اللَّهَ يَنصُرْكُمْ وَيُثَبِّتْ أَقْدَامَكُمْ

Muhammad 47:7.       O you who believe! If you help (in the cause of) Allah, He will help you, and make your foothold firm.

Believe in His promise because His promise is always true. Just check to see if it is indeed His work that you are doing. This is important. Not everything we call His work is actually His work. So, don’t be wedded to your own bright idea. Seek for answers in the Book of Allahﷻ and the Sunnah of His Messengerﷺ because there is no better guidance. Do only what pleases Allahﷻ, not what is most popular or has the greatest demands. People’s fads and likes and dislikes have no meaning before Allahﷻ. Do what is pleasing to Allahﷻ and He will help you. Shut down all the rest because Allahﷻ will not help you in those activities.

Inviting towards self; versus inviting towards Allah

In the corporate world inviting towards yourself is a given. Inviting towards yourself is the basis of differentiation. It is the philosophy of branding. You don’t ask people to clean their teeth; you tell them to buy Colgate. You don’t ask people to use air travel; you tell them to fly Emirates.

Allahﷻ on the other hand said to His Messengerﷺ :

قُلْ هَـذِهِ سَبِيلِي أَدْعُو إِلَى اللّهِ عَلَى بَصِيرَةٍ أَنَاْ وَمَنِ اتَّبَعَنِي وَسُبْحَانَ اللّهِ وَمَا أَنَاْ مِنَ الْمُشْرِكِينَ

Yusuf 12: 108.     Say (O Muhammad): “This is my way; I invite unto Allah  with sure knowledge, I and whosoever follows me (also must invite others to Allah with sure knowledge). And Glorified and Exalted be Allah (above all that they associate as partners with Him). And I am not of the Mushrikun (polytheists).”

We on the other hand invite towards our organizations in opposition to others doing the same work. When did you ever hear of ABC sending people to DEF’s courses because the DEF course is at a more convenient time or the teacher is a better teacher than the ABC teacher? When did you ever hear of ABC and DEF collaborating about what to teach, how to teach it and where to teach it? On the other hand, we hear story after story of ABC going into a country that DEF is already in and all the turf wars resulting from that. So, who are we inviting towards? And is our work the same as what Allahﷻ mentioned in the Ayah above?

The other attendant problem which is a very major matter is that about Ikhlaas-un-Niyyah. When we invite towards ourselves and our organization, what is our Niyyah? To please Allahﷻ? How can that be when Allahﷻ Himself told His Messengerﷺ to describe himself as someone who invites towards Allahﷻ. No Nabi ever invited towards himself. They all invited towards Allahﷻ. We on the other hand, caught up in our corporate philosophy are hopelessly embroiled in brand building. In the process we are dividing the Ummah.

We use key individuals and build them into brands not concerned even about what will happen to that individual based brand when that individual departs to meet His Rabb. We don’t even think of how strongly this contradicts what the Anbiya did. We use every opportunity to gain publicity, exposure, visibility and to put our brand out there in people’s faces for them to see and notice and speak well of us. There is not a flood, disaster or calamity, no widow to be supported, no orphan to be sheltered, no hungry mouth to be fed, but that it must be done only with the backdrop of our banner and logo. May Allahﷻ help us all, what do we think this does to our Niyyah? What is the Ikhlaas of our Niyyah?

I dread standing before Allahﷻ and seeing my book of deeds clean like a freshly wiped slate because all that I did was to build my brand and not for the pleasure of Allahﷻ.

We use our international conferences as major fund raising and brand building exercises all geared to take away someone else’s market share. Who is that someone else? Another organization working to spread Islam. Who is the ‘market’? Muslims. So, taking it away from him means what? Our conferences are reminiscent of major rock music events. Strobe lights, gyrating cameras on gantries, sounds almost bordering on music, markets with people milling around all over (how come nobody talks about the need to segregate in these bazaars?). 15-minute speeches by a galaxy of stars whose only claim to fame is the number of people who will come to watch them perform. And believe me, it is a performance. To give the poor speakers their due, what else can you do in 15 minutes? And the final criterion of success of the conference is, ‘What was the collection?’ Box office. No less. If you don’t believe me, sit and quietly listen to what people say in your internal conference meetings.

Accumulation of wealth versus Baraka

The basic principle of finance is ‘more is more and less is less’. The basic principle of Baraka in Islam is ‘less is more’.  We lose sleep over the fact that we don’t have enough physical, visible resources when we should remember that we are the people of the Ghayb about whose RizqAllahﷻ said:

وَفِي السَّمَاء رِزْقُكُمْ وَمَا تُوعَدُونَ

فَوَرَبِّ السَّمَاء وَالْأَرْضِ إِنَّهُ لَحَقٌّ مِّثْلَ مَا أَنَّكُمْ تَنطِقُونَ

 Dhariyaat 51: 22-23 And in the heaven is your provision, and that which you are promised. 23. Then, by the Rabb of the heaven and the earth, it is the truth (i.e. what has been promised to you), just as it is the truth that you can speak.

Allahﷻ taught this lesson of not relying on resources but relying on Him alone for the work of Deen to the Sahaba. When the Sahaba tended to veer off-track and rely on material strength, Allahﷻimmediately corrected them.

لَقَدْ نَصَرَكُمُ اللّهُ فِي مَوَاطِنَ كَثِيرَةٍ وَيَوْمَ حُنَيْنٍ إِذْ أَعْجَبَتْكُمْ كَثْرَتُكُمْ فَلَمْ تُغْنِ عَنكُمْ شَيْئًا وَضَاقَتْ عَلَيْكُمُ الأَرْضُ بِمَا رَحُبَتْ ثُمَّ وَلَّيْتُم مُّدْبِرِينَ

ثُمَّ أَنَزلَ اللّهُ سَكِينَتَهُ عَلَى رَسُولِهِ وَعَلَى الْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَأَنزَلَ جُنُودًا لَّمْ تَرَوْهَا وَعذَّبَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُواْ وَذَلِكَ جَزَاء الْكَافِرِينَ

ثُمَّ يَتُوبُ اللّهُ مِن بَعْدِ ذَلِكَ عَلَى مَن يَشَاء وَاللّهُ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ

 Tawba 9: 25. Truly Allah has given you victory on many battle fields, and on the Day of Hunain (battle) when you rejoiced at your great number, but it availed you nothing and the earth, vast as it is, was straitened for you, then you turned back in flight. 26. Then Allah did send down His Sakinah (calmness, tranquility and reassurance, etc.) on the Messenger (Muhammad), and on the believers, and sent down forces (angels) which you saw not and punished the disbelievers. Such is the recompense of disbelievers. 27. Then after that Allah will accept the repentance of whom He will. And Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.

Allahﷻconverted their victory into a rout and then when the core group of Sahaba rallied around Rasoolullahﷺ, responding to his call, Allahﷻsent down the angels to help them and re-converted defeat into victory. And then Allahﷻrevealed the Ayaat which spelled out clearly what had happened and why so that the lesson would be learnt well. The Sahaba learnt that lesson very well.

In the battle of Mo’ata Abu Hurayrahy who became Muslim during Khaybar was in the army. He said, ‘I attended the battle of Mo’ata. When they came close we saw what nobody can face, weapons, preparation, silk, brocade, gold and my eyes became dazzled (bariqa basari).’ This showed on his face and Thabit bin Arqamy who was next to him saw it. This was an experienced and senior Muslim handing down his experience to his junior. He said to Abu Hurayrahy, ‘It seems you are seeing a huge force.’ Abu Hurayrahy said, ‘Yes, just look at them.’ Thabit bin Arqamy smiled and said, ‘You were not with us in Badr. We are not given victory because of our numbers.’

Allahﷻsaid:

فَلَمْ تَقْتُلُوهُمْ وَلَـكِنَّ اللّهَ قَتَلَهُمْ وَمَا رَمَيْتَ إِذْ رَمَيْتَ وَلَـكِنَّ اللّهَ رَمَى وَلِيُبْلِيَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ مِنْهُ بَلاء حَسَناً إِنَّ اللّهَ سَمِيعٌ عَلِيمٌ

Anfal 8:17.      You killed them not, but Allah killed them. And you (Muhammad) threw not when you did throw but Allah threw, that He might test the believers by a fair trial from Him. Verily, Allah is All-Hearer, All-Knower.

That is the power of being accepted by Allahﷻbecause only then will one be guided, protected and supported with forces not visible to the eyes. Victory for Muslims comes from Allahﷻon the basis of their piety and defies all laws of strategy and tactics. We are people who were sent to take from the treasures of Allahﷻ and give to the world. This was our true brand. Our real differentiation. We were the givers to the world and the world loves those who give. But then we forgot how to take from the treasures of Allahﷻ and started chasing the world instead of giving to it. So, we lost our prominence, our nobility and our grandeur. We became like anyone else and the world started to hate us because they saw us as competitors for worldly goods.

Going forward

As I write this I am aware that one must also provide solutions if possible. Many organizations are immersed in the corporate model and have also found their ‘niche’ in the ‘market’. Now what do they do?

First of all, I suggest that you read what I have written and see how much of it applies to you. After all you only need to correct what needs to be corrected. So, if you are already working according to the way of the Anbiya then all power to you.

If not, then what must be changed, must be changed no matter how painful, because the alternative of finding out that you were wrong on the Day of Judgment will be far more painful. Imagine that we discover that all our work was worthless because we looked for worldly gain and fame and approval of people and popularity and so it is said to us, ‘What you wanted was given to you. Today there is nothing for you here.’ May Allahﷻ protect us from such a fate.

As for salaries and the usual argument, ‘Abu Bakr (RA) also took a salary,’ let me clarify. Abu Bakr (RA) was forced to accept a salary and then he took the bare minimum that he needed to support his family. Then before he died, he gave a piece of land that he owned to the Baithul Maal in return for his salary for two years of his Khilaafa. Sayyidina Omar ibn Al Khattab (RA) wept and said to Ayesha (RA), ‘Your father set a very high standard for all those who come after him.’ Let those who take his name remember the whole story and not quote only a part to justify the corporate salaries that they take home. Anbiya took nothing.

So, I say, take what you must from the Islamic organization. But only what is essential to your basic needs. Nothing more. Seek the Fadhl of Allahﷻ elsewhere and Insha’Allah he will give it to you. There are many modern examples of people doing that. It is not my purpose to list them here but those who are interested may write to me and I will tell you about them. But never take from the people. Islam is not a business. Keep Islam free because Allahﷻ and His Messengerﷺ didn’t charge you for it.

As for being in a ‘niche’ – the basic principle that I am speaking about is to examine what that niche is. If it is something that is in keeping with the Sunnah and the work of Anbiya and you are doing it in that way, then go ahead. If not, change. Close it down. Stop doing it. Remember that only the work of Da’awa that is done according to the way of the Anbiya is sure to be rewarded. By all means use technology to the fullest extent. When I am warning you against the corporate model, I don’t mean the tools of corporate functioning. I don’t mean reporting channels, technology, tools of working more efficiently, quality systems and so on. I mean the philosophy of corporate growth, significance, measurement of success, competing in the market place, the whole concept of market itself and gaining prominence. Those must be discarded. It is not about the nuts and bolts of managing. It is about the principles of leadership. Believe me, there is a difference. A vast difference. The difference between Jannah and the other place.

It is clear (and certainly logically as well) that before we can expect to do the work of Allahﷻ, we must first become accepted by Him. We must get the job first, to be able to do the job. So, we must apply, beg, plead, show our ability, sincerity and willingness so that Allahﷻ accepts us for that most significant and honorable of jobs – the job of the best people on earth – the Anbiya of Allahﷻ. Only when we are accepted, can we expect to get the powers, authority, resources, forces, knowledge and the understanding to carry out the work satisfactorily.

Allahﷻ will help all those who He accepts for the work of His Deen as He helped the Anbiya. But that is provided we first prove ourselves worthy of His attention and the work of His Deen.

Please remember that Allahﷻ made the rules of Da’awa and His Anbiya followed them. So, success will come to only those who follow the Anbiya.

For the rest; well it is between you and your Rabb. I ask Allahﷻ to forgive me and you.

 

Corporate life – Choices

Corporate life – Choices

Out of sight, out of mind is an old proverb that applies very much in corporate life. This refers both to being physically away from the corridors of power and those who walk those corridors as well as being in physical proximity but so silent as to become invisible. I recall a colleague who spent his entire career as an accountant in the same post, position and chair. When he was about to retire, I happened to visit his office, I noticed that the arms of his wooden chair and the edge of his desk had gentle grooves corresponding to where his arms had rested for thirty-five years. The grooves and their edges were also darker colored in mute testimony to the fact that the man had literally sweated at his desk. I hope his employers were appreciative of his loyalty. Most likely they didn’t even notice. If they had, they would at least have got the man a new desk and chair.

I mention this because about five years into my career as a tea planter, I was promoted and transferred from the Anamallais to Assam. I was in two minds about accepting this position as on the one hand I would have had independent charge, but I would have been as far away from Chennai, our headquarters as is possible to be without going over the border into Nepal. I had advice from an unexpected source; the wife of my boss who had transferred me. My boss and his wife were both dear friends, but my boss was a typical career manager whose first concern was always what was good for the company, not necessarily for the person. His wife told me exactly that. She said, “Don’t take this job. You will disappear from the radar and be forgotten. You will get labeled as an Assam planter which in a South Indian company with most of its operations in the south, is not an asset. Others will get the jobs down here and you will never return. You will do a good job there as you have always done which in this case will go against you as you will become indispensable there and will never be moved.” I told her, “But (her husband and my boss) is advising me to go.” She replied, “He is my husband and I know him better than anyone else. He is thinking of himself, not you. Your going to Assam will be good for him as he will have someone reliable there. But it will be oblivion for you.” This is advice and a demonstration of integrity and genuine concern that I will remember lifelong. I declined the promotion.

In the corporate world it is important to be physically visible, not only through reports. Paradoxically if you are doing well and all your reports have nothing to make anyone concerned, you are not rewarded but forgotten. It is indeed the squeaky wheel that gets the grease, and this is nowhere truer than the corporate world. This was a trying period because suddenly I had no specific job. I had to leave my job as the Manager on Lower Sheikalmudi Estate because that job had already been assigned to another colleague. That left me literally homeless as there were no bungalows in the Anamallais where I could live. I was sent off to the Mango Range until the management could decide what to do with me. I was assigned a bungalow in a forest thicket, which was in a dilapidated condition. The location of the bungalow was lovely, and it was a joy to wake up to bird calls every morning. However, the house itself looked like it would collapse on our heads at any time.  Of particular concern were the walls, which were so waterlogged that they had fungus growing on them in huge patches. My wife is an amazing homemaker and all her talents were put to test in this place. Out of this dilapidated house she created a lovely home which we enjoyed living in.

Since I had no regular job, I decided on doing two things:

For a long time, I had been talking about the need for systematic training of new managers. The current system in the plantations was that a new assistant would be put under a manager and what he learnt or didn’t depended on the capability, interest, and energy of his manager and field or factory officers. If the assistant was lucky and got some people who were both knowledgeable and interested in teaching, then he learnt a great deal. If not, he remained guessing. This is a highly undesirable system, which is very time and energy intensive and does not give standard results. I had been saying for several years that there was a need for a standard text book on tea plantation management, which could be used to provide standardized training. Any additional inputs that the young man’s manager and staff could give him would only add to this, but he would not be deficient in the basics.

During my stay in Mango Range, I decided to write this book and in 6 months, I produced a 200-page Manual of Tea Plantation Management. At the time of its publication there was no such book on the market and it was a source of great satisfaction for me. My company published it as an internal training book and though it was never a commercial publication, it did get fairly wide publicity and was used by many new managers. It has since gone out of print and to the best of my knowledge, it has not been reprinted. A big lesson for me was the power of the written word and its high credibility in making your customer base aware of what you have to offer. After that book there was no way that I could be ignored, not that I feared that. I had a lot of people who I had dealt with over the years rooting for me in the company.

The second thing I did was to spend a lot of time in Mango Range factory and hone my expertise in CTC manufacture of tea. I was very fortunate in that Mr. T.V. Verghese, who had retired as a General Manager in Tata Tea and was consulting with our company on manufacture, was a regular visitor and we became good friends. He shared his knowledge freely and I learnt a great deal. He was a practical teacher, which meant that I got to spend a lot of time on my back on the floor meshing CTC rollers with grease anywhere on my face and body that grease would stick. I learnt all aspects of manufacture hands-on, further reinforcing my belief that learning comes from doing – not from talking about doing. In Murugalli Estate, I’d had a lot of experience in Orthodox manufacture, and even though as Project Manager, I had built Mayura Factory, the premier CTC factory in South India, I was moved as soon as the construction was over – thanks to a motorcycle accident. Consequently, my knowledge of CTC manufacture was weak. In Mango Range, as a student of Mr. T. V. Verghese and thanks to his willingness to teach, I rectified that deficiency. It was ironic that thereafter I went to Ambadi, which was a rubber plantation and never really used this knowledge, but it did come in use for writing a paper comparing Orthodox and CTC methods, which I presented at the UPASI Annual Conference in 1989.

Mango Range was an interlude in my career. I was marking time and waiting for some positive change to happen, and in the meanwhile I enjoyed myself. It has long been my philosophy to live one day at a time and to try to create as much happiness for myself and around me as possible. I have learnt that the two are the same. You can only be happy if those around you are happy. This is true whether you are an individual, an organization, or a country. Imagine what a wonderful world we would have if instead of competing, we collaborated and shared resources. We would all be wealthier, happier, and healthier. I have always held that the secret of happiness is to be thankful for and enjoy the small things in life. There are far many more of them than the big events. If we can enjoy the small things, then we can be happy all the time. The key to enjoyment is to appreciate them and be thankful for them. The key to contentment is not amassing material but being thankful for what one has. The happiest people are those who are content. Content people are those who are thankful. Material wealth has nothing to do with it.

One of the things that I was very appreciative of and thankful for, was the leisure that I had in Mango Range. I had no specific work except what I decided to do for myself. And I was still getting my salary. I decided to learn golf. I got a caddy from Ooty Club to come and stay with me in the estate for three weeks. His name was Frank Augustine (I used to call him Frankenstein) and he looked like a dried prawn. When he swung the club though, he always hit the ball with that sweet ‘phut’ that all golfers love to hear. And the ball would travel straight like a bullet down the freeway. Shows that technique and not strength of the arm is what works in golf. Also, in many other things in life. Whereas my club would come up with a good measure of earth and top the ball to boot. Frankenstein believed in hard work – meaning, making me work hard. He set up a practice net, produced a set of a hundred used golf balls and we were good to go. I would hit the ball into the net until I felt my arms would drop off. All the while, Frankenstein would sit on his haunches under the Champa tree that was to one side and watch me and make clucking noises. The effect of all this clucking and my swinging at the ball became clear when one day about midway in our training Frankenstein suggested that we should go and play a round at the club. So off we went on the three-hour drive to Ooty. After a cup of tea and a sandwich, I teed off and that is where all the practice paid off. Ooty Club has very narrow freeways bordered by spiky gorse. If you didn’t hit your ball straight, you would send it into the gorse and then you may as well forget about it –  or pay to get the ball back by leaving your blood on the gorse and acquiring gorse thorn furrows in your hide. As Frankenstein continued his mother hen act, I could see the distinct improvement in my style and capability.

Another one of my joys while living in Mango Range was the time I got to spend with Mr. Siasp Kothawala at his lovely guesthouse in Masinagudi called Bamboo Banks. Masinagudi is in the foothills of the Nilgiris at the edge of the Mudumalai-Bandipur National Park, so there is a lot of wildlife around. You see a lot of Chital, some Gaur, and some elephant, the latter being dangerous as they are too close to human habitation and often in conflict with people. Mudumalai is also supposed to be a tiger reserve though I have never seen a tiger in it. Perhaps it is another case of tiger reserves having been freed of tigers as has happened in many places in India. Anyway, my wife and I used to go to Bamboo Banks on some weekends. The gate of Bamboo Banks was an ingenious contraption. It was a pole, suspended horizontally across the road and had a plastic water container on one end. There was a sign asking you to tug on a rope if you wanted to open the gate. The rope was connected to an overhead tank so when you tugged it, water would flow into the plastic can on one end of the pole, which then went down and lifted the other end. All this happened while you were comfortably sitting in your car. The water would then drain out of a hole in the can and flow into an irrigation ditch and on into some fruit trees, closing the gate. Siasp was a tea planter and worked for the Bombay Burma Tea Company (BBTC). He then went into the tourism business and has done very well. We would spend lovely afternoons talking about the tea industry and the general state of the world and drinking tea. Siasp always had an angle to everything, which he would put across in a hilarious and entertaining way.

Siasp also had horses on his farm and having had tea I would take one of the horses and go riding in the sanctuary. This had its exciting moments and I recall two of the best. One day, late in the afternoon, I was riding out of the farm and into the dry fields that surrounded it before the track entered the bamboo thickets that bordered Mudumalai, when I saw a falcon hovering in the sky ahead of me. I pulled up to watch it and saw a dove break out of cover from a hedge and head for the safety of the forest flying very fast. The falcon folded his wings and stooped, coming down like an arrow out of the heavens. The dove had almost made it to the forest cover when the falcon hit it in middle of its back with a slap that I could hear where I was sitting on my horse. The dove must have died with the impact, but the falcon bore it to the ground and then holding it in its claws, looked up right and left, its pale-yellow eyes scanning the world to challenge any takers. What a magnificent sight that was. The image is engraved in my memory.

As I rode on, I took a path that went along the middle of a forest glade which had scattered clumps of bamboo. After a kilometer or two, the path passed between two very thick and large clumps of bamboo and dipped into a dry stream bed and went up the other bank. I used to like to gallop this stretch and my horse knew the routine. Strangely, on that day as we came near the bamboo clumps my horse shied and stopped and refused to go forward. This was odd behavior, but I have enough experience to know that in the forest your animal is your eyes and ears and you only ignore its signals at your own peril. I listened to the horse and turned around and then took a long and circuitous route to go around whatever it was that was bothering my horse. As we came around, I saw what was bothering him. It was a lone male elephant which was hiding behind the clump of bamboo. Now I have no idea what the elephant’s intention was, but I was not taking any chances. My horse obviously didn’t like the idea of passing close to the elephant and if we had continued on that track, we would have encountered that elephant where the path was the narrowest and where it was bordered and hedged in by the bamboo. In case of an attack, we would not have had any escape. Lone elephants are famous for such attacks. A rather terminal situation which we were happy to have avoided.

On one of those trips to Bamboo Banks, I saw an elephant by the roadside, a little way inside the forest. As this was quite close to the Forest Department’s housing and elephant camp, I thought that it was a tame elephant and decided to take a picture. I had a small box camera at the time in which you were the telephoto – if you wanted greater magnification, you had to go closer to the object. I got out of the car and walked almost to the side of the elephant and took a photo. Suddenly I heard someone yelling at me, his voice high pitched in panic. I looked up and there was a forest guard, some good two-hundred meters away, waving frantically and yelling at me to get back into the car. Since it is not an offence to get out of your car on the main road in Mudumalai, I was irritated at this man’s insistence but since I already had my picture, I returned to the car. As we drove on and came up to him, the man waved us to a stop and still in an angry voice asked me in Tamil, ‘What do you think you are doing? If you want to die, go do it somewhere else.’

I said to him, ‘Hey! Relax. What is all this about dying? I was only taking a picture of one of your elephants. Who said I want to die?’

The man said, ‘Our elephants? That was a lone wild tusker that you were standing next to. I have no idea why he let you get that close or why he did nothing. Your lucky day. That is a wild elephant and a lone one at that. Don’t do these stupid things.’ And he went on for a while in the same vein. I was so shocked that I listened in silence. And of course, how can you get angry with someone who is only interested in preserving your life? But I still have the picture, which is very impressive.

 

For more, please see my book, ‘It’s my Life’.

 

Urdu? What did I do?

A language, any language, is not simply sounds and script characters which represent thoughts. A language is the soul of the people. It is the vehicle which connects their past to their present, their present to their dreams. It is the means by which one generation leaves its legacy for the next. In my view the single most significant event in human development is the evolution of languages. It was this process that enabled human beings to preserve their thoughts, teach others, learn from history and talk to generations yet unborn. Language is the elixir of eternal life. Or as close to it as we are likely to come.

Among the many strange developments in our country is a resurgence of hostility against poor Urdu, which is wrongfully alleged to be the language of Muslims. And since Muslims are people non-grata their language is language non-grata. No matter that it has nothing to do with Muslims in the first place. It is seen as that and so it must become unseen. There is a long history to all this and for those who are interested in it, please read this excellent article:

https://thewire.in/226180/a-country-where-sanskrit-deserves-preservation-but-urdu-doesnt/

While I lament the completely undeserved hostility to Urdu, which is in the nature of cutting your nose to spite your face; I must say that nobody and no government can kill a language that people want to use. The very birth and rise of Urdu is testimony to that. Farsi was the official language of the time. Yet Urdu eventually supplanted it without any official support, simply because the people wanted to speak it, wrote in it, transacted business in it and so on. When you read the history of the development of Urdu literature and poetry you can’t help being struck by the enormous vitality of the language, its ease of expression, it beauty of turn of phrase, which thanks mainly to the fact that it was understood by the masses, gradually and then rapidly supplanted Farsi. English was repressed in South Africa during the rule of Afrikaners and Afrikaans was strongly propagated to the extent that even today most South African people speak Afrikaans. Yet we know that Afrikaans is dying and will die, and English is alive and well and growing.

The same is true of English in this country which has seen its share of hostility yet all the Hindutva and other chauvinists, send their children to English medium schools for one reason only; because without it they will not have access to the global culture. Languages must cater to the aspirations of people. What happened with Urdu as well as with almost every other Indian language, is that they didn’t keep up with scientific development. Indeed, Urdu has some of the most beautiful poetry, especially love poetry in existence. As an Urdu speaker, I can’t tell you how it has the power to move me to tears. English poetry on the other hand leaves me cold. There is no other word to describe that. However, when I need to work, think, write my thoughts to an audience that spans borders, it is English that enables me to do so. When I am explaining any concept in science, psychology, sociology or politics, it is English that has the words to describe precisely what I need to say. With Urdu (or Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam and Telugu) I find myself translating the English to create cumbersome and ungainly expressions that make little sense.

Call it my lack of expertise in the Indian languages compared to my mastery of English, the fact remains that this is my experience. Talk to a million others like me and you will find that there are rather a lot of us around. Take that forward and ask how many like me are likely to teach Urdu to our children and you have the perfect diagnosis of the fatal ailment that besets Urdu. I was teaching a leadership course to a group of senior Muslim scholars in Urdu, simultaneously translating my material from English to Urdu when I realized, very painfully, this fact, that Urdu simply doesn’t have the words to translate the concepts I was talking about. I did my best and by explaining where I would have used a single word, I managed to do my job, but the fact was clear; Urdu no longer speaks to the modern person. It is like Arabic in a way that has more than twenty words for horse and camel, but not a single one for DNA, corpuscle, neuron or clavicle. Ask yourself, which is more important?

There are many Indian languages which have died over the years, not because someone actively prohibited them, punished those who spoke them and burnt all their literature and poetry, but simply because the people who spoke them, chose not to do so any more. Not a single one of them was spoken by Muslims. Not a single one of them was the target of any Governmental hostility. Yet they all died. Languages die because they no longer have words to express what people want to say. This doesn’t happen overnight but is a gradual process, where they fall into disuse. This is what is happening to Urdu. It simply doesn’t have the words to cater to our modern world or way of life. The world today has little value for the arts, for sublime thoughts or lofty ideals. It speaks in the language of the present, material, prosaic but real.

Gul o Bulbul kay fasanay hain bahut khoob magar

(Stories of the flower and Bulbul are beautiful but)

Roti tho kamana hi paday ga is mehfil kay baad

(I still have to earn my bread after this gathering)

This is the harsh reality of our life today. No matter how brutal or crass that sounds, language must be utilitarian first. Urdu seems to have lost that race. Incidentally I wrote that couplet just now to illustrate the dilemma of Urdu.

Today Urdu is dying in India, mainly because traditionally Urdu speaking people, Muslims and Hindus, have stopped speaking it. This is the inconvenient truth that those who complain about the impending death of Urdu choose not to face. Ask how many of those who talk of the need to protect Urdu, subscribe to Urdu newspapers? Ask how many children in their homes can read or write Urdu? Ask how many can quote, or even read or memorize Urdu poetry? I am not talking about Islam at all. The language of Islam is Arabic. Not Urdu. I am talking about Urdu literature and poetry; how many can read it, understand it or quote it? The answer is clear and visible before our eyes. But we like to blame the Government when we must look at ourselves first. The fact that Urdu is not the medium of instruction in schools or that it is not an ‘official’ language, is neither here nor there. Urdu’s history is witness that it was not the medium of instruction in schools nor was it the official language yet it supplanted Farsi which was both. It did that without governmental support and despite governmental neglect. It did that for one reason only; because people decided they wanted to use Urdu and not Farsi.

Languages die, not because of the aggression of enemies but the neglect of friends. Aggression may actually help a language which will go underground and remain alive and gain strength thanks to the dangers it faces above ground. This is how Arabic remained alive and well and was taught in secret to Muslim children to enable them to read the Qur’an during the more than eighty years of brutal repression of Islam and all its symbols in erstwhile Soviet Russia. Soviet Russia then became erstwhile. Not Islam or Arabic or the Qur’an.

The situation is not hopeless. Far from it. But the solution doesn’t lie in the hands of the Government. It lies in the hands of people. Our hands. The hands of those who claim to love Urdu. Start speaking it yourself. Subscribe to Urdu newspapers. Teach Urdu to your children at home, if schools don’t teach it. Listen to Urdu poetry and support Urdu poets. Read Urdu books and write in Urdu. No power on earth can stop you from doing any of this. You don’t need any money or time or resources to do any of these. Just the will to get up and do something instead of complaining and blaming the Government. This Government has much it must be held accountable for. But neglect of Urdu is the responsibility of Urdu speaking people. Not the Government.

Yes, the Government of India must support Urdu because it is a truly Indian language. It was born in India, is spoken my millions in India and is a part of the history of India. But before that, Urdu speaking people must support it. If people do it, what the Government does or doesn’t do, will not matter. If people don’t support it, no Government can keep any language alive. Sanskrit is the example to illustrate that. Politicians taking oaths of office in Sanskrit proves nothing. Ask how many speak Sanskrit at home or read Sanskrit papers. Much like Usha Utup singing Hindi songs.

What is my crime?

What is my crime?

The killing shot is just behind the shoulder. Aim for the spot behind the elbow and your bullet will tear through skin and muscle, enter the rib cage and pulverize the heart. If it gets deflected by a rib it will still go through the lungs and graze the heart enough to cause massive bleeding. But it is not a disabling shot. It will kill but after a while, when the thoracic cavity is filled with blood and the animal starts exhaling it, spraying trees and grass with its lifeblood as it runs, pain and fear crazed, trying to escape. Not knowing that it is already dead on its feet. All you need to do is to wait. Eventually, in agony that I can’t even begin to describe and terror that only the one who feels it can know, the matriarch falls.

She was the repository of wisdom for her family. Wisdom learnt from her own mother and her mother before that, as long as elephants walked on the land. Wisdom which she taught to her progeny, especially her daughters. Wisdom which told her where to dig for water in the drought, which not only ensured the survival of her family but from which all other animals and birds benefited. Wisdom which reminded her of the best paths over mountains. Paths that men later converted to roads, so well ‘surveyed’ they were and suitable to movement of heavy traffic. Wisdom which told her where the best fodder was, the most succulent grass, new leaves on the Mopani and soil with salt and minerals which elephants need to complete their diet. She was the matriarch. They followed her, obeyed her, respected and loved her. Sometimes in their wandering they would come across elephant bones. The skeleton of another, long gone. She would stand by them in silence and they with her, handling the bones, gathering those scattered. Sometimes, covering them with leaves. She and they knew that one of theirs had died and they mourned their dead. The intelligence of the elephant and their close family ties are their burden.

But today, she had been mortally wounded and had fallen and lay dying. The herd, her children and family are also mortally wounded like her, also fall, one by one. The only ones’ left are the calves. Nurslings, whose tusks have not grown yet. The tiny ones who are still nursing, dependent on their mother’s milk. All their aunts, cousins, older siblings, are dying and have died in one manic morning of blood and death. The calves cry out; literally weep. Crying for their mothers and weeping with terror and grief because for the first time in their short life, she doesn’t answer.

The calf never knew this to happen before. His mother was always there. He talked to her, threw tantrums, got smacked on his behind, walked under her belly if the sun got too hot, just reached up and drank his fill of milk if was hungry and simply lay down to sleep if he got tired while she stood over him to shade him, while he slept. If he strayed away from her, one of his aunts, cousins, grandmothers, someone was always at hand to answer, with a rumble, a honk or a comforting trunk on his head.

But not today. Today he wails in vain. He cries out, screams in despair, but nobody answers him. His mother is lying there but doesn’t respond. There is an overwhelming smell of blood and guts and dung. He is dazed and can’t understand anything. All he knows is that his mother is lying down and no matter how much he cries and butts and nudges her, she refuses to get to her feet. He needs her, he is terrified, he calls to her, but for the first time, she is silent.

The hours pass, because elephants don’t die easily. Then come the executioners. He smells the hated man-smell, as they come. Not with guns now, as they know there is no danger. They come with machetes and chainsaws. They come to his mother’s body. He tries to protect her but they just push him aside. One of them slams his head with the butt of a rifle. The blow dazes him but he is still standing and watching as they hack away his mother’s face. Where machetes find it tough going, the men use chainsaws. They rip out her tusks. Then they go to his other family members who are lying where they fell. Other men load the tusks onto a truck they came in. Two hours or so later, they are gone. All that is left is the smell of blood and the smell of man. And there is silence. It is then, that he hears something he recognizes. Not with any pleasure but with a strange fear that he had never felt when he heard it many times earlier. The laughing of Hyenas. He had not felt any fear as his mother and the herd was always there to protect him. But today?

For predators on the plains, elephants are almost impossible to kill. There is no throat to throttle, no neck to break. The only way that an elephant can be killed is by tearing off enough flesh to inflict wounds, grievous enough to create massive loss of blood, so that the animal falls. Then it can be eaten alive. It takes many hours of unspeakable agony for the elephant and normally can’t be done to an adult. But a baby is another matter. Normally, no lion, leopard or hyena can even dream of getting close to a baby elephant. The herd is always there to protect the individual. But when ivory hunters have evened the odds in their favor, lions and hyenas are most thankful.

So, while one waits in dread, the other comes in anticipation.

I hope those who still insist on buying ivory ornaments, really like what they wear. They are the real killers. It is their fingers which are on the triggers of poacher’s guns. Because poachers work for them. If there are no buyers, there will be no poachers. The real price of your trinkets is in blood, tears and unimaginable agony of innocents. Enjoy them!!

AVGM – A Very Good Man

AVGM – A Very Good Man

It was 1983. I had just returned from Guyana and was looking for a job. A dear friend in Hyderabad, Mr. Nazir Latif, introduced me to his friend Mr. Mumtaz Ahmed from Calcutta (in the days when it was still called that) who in turn asked me to go to Chennai to meet Mr. M. A. Alagappan, the MD of CWS (India) Limited, a tea company with plantations in the Anamallais, Mango Range and Assam. Mr. Alagappan sent me to meet Mr. Ahmedullah, GM Plantations, who was based in Iyerpadi. I took the Nilgiri Express to Coimbatore from Madras (it was still called that) and then a bus to Valparai. I had been asked to get off at Rotti Kadai, just after Carver Marsh’s statue at the top of the forty-hairpin bends that the road takes when climbing the mountain range called Anamallai Hills (Hills of the Elephants). I did as directed and found myself trudging up a narrow estate road with my bag on my shoulder. It was a Sunday morning, absolutely beautiful and sunny but not hot. As I walked up the slope, drinking in the scenery with tea and Silver Oak (Grevilia Robusta) trees on both sides, with the road falling away into the bottom of the hill on my left where I could see the top of a house and a tea factory. That house was where my friendship with AVGM (AVG Menon) and his wife Parvathy Menon, began.

As I walked up the slope in search of Mr. Ahmedullah who I was supposed to report to, I saw an Ambassador car coming down the slope. I stepped aside to let it pass but it stopped and a very distinguished gentleman rolled down his window in the back seat and looked a question. I greeted him and said, ‘I am looking for Mr. Ahmedullah. I am Yawar Baig and Mr. Alagappan sent me from Madras and asked me to meet him.’ He said to me, ‘Please get into the car.’ I was very pleased at the kindness as the reality of a city dweller at 1000 feet elevation, walking up a slope at 4000 feet with a bag was hitting me. The driver turned the car around and we drove up and turned into a beautiful dream of a wooden bungalow with blooming rose bushes all along the drive and a lawn in the front with a center piece of a Bird of Paradise flower in full bloom. At the end of the lawn was an old stone wall at the edge of which were very tall Blue Gums (Eucalyptus globulus) trees with their characteristic bark sloughing off like a snake shedding its skin.

I got out of the car and turned to thank the kind gentleman and his wife who was with him only to see them getting off also. I hastened to tell them that it was not necessary for them to ring the doorbell for me and that I would see to all that myself. ‘Thank you very much for the lift. Please don’t bother to get off. I will go on from here’, I said. The gentleman gave me a sardonic smile and said, ‘I am Mr. Ahmedullah.’ That led to a sumptuous breakfast and then we got back into the car and he and his wife, who had been on their way to Cochin, before I interrupted their journey, drove me down the hill to the house, whose roof I had already seen and introduced me to Mr. AVG Menon and his wife Parvathy. I was to stay with them for the night and present myself the next morning at the office for my formal interview. A great lesson in graciousness and hospitality which I received from Ahmed and Anees which drove home to me what I later stated in my lectures as, ‘People listen with their eyes. They don’t care what you say, until they see what you do.’ I learnt many other things from Ahmed and Anees who are both very dear friends and before that, my elders and teachers. But this was the first of them. They could simply have driven me to AVG’s house without interrupting their journey to Cochin. Instead, they took me home, fed me and made me comfortable and only then took me to where I was to stay the night.

To make a long story short, I went to the office the next morning for an interview where I met another wonderful person who is also a very dear friend, Mr. N. K (Nikoo) Rawlley. Ahmed and Nikoo interviewed me and I got the job of Assistant Manager, at a princely salary of ₹850 per month. I was posted to Sheikalmudi Estate on the other end of the Anamallai tea district from Iyerpadi. It is interesting to speculate that perhaps Sheikalmudi was the result of the Indianization of the Arab name, Sheikh Al Amoudi. Not too much of a stretch if one remembers that it is not too far away to Kodangallur from Sheikalmudi, down the Chalakudy Ghat, where Arab traders first landed in the reign of King Kulasekhara Perumal. Whatever be the origin of the name, to my great delight, by the time I joined a month after my interview, AVG Menon had been transferred from Iyerpadi to Sheikalmudi and was to be my first boss in planting.

I was billeted in the No. 18 bungalow. The number referred to the tea field in which it was situated in the LD (Lower Division) of Sheikalmudi Estate. I was in charge of LD. I didn’t know the first thing about running a household, so Mrs. Menon took over. She stocked my food store, sent cooking utensils and crockery and cutlery from her house, until I got my own and kept track of what my cook, good old Bastian, was making for me and what he was spending on it. If it had not been for her brilliant management, I would have starved to death on my princely salary. But with her in-charge, I even had some money left over every month. Which led one day to me discovering, when I went to the bank to update my passbook, that I was the owner of enormous wealth amounting to nothing less than ₹500. That was my net worth and I feel the warm glow of that to this day. AVG and Mrs. Menon (she told me to call her Paro but I can’t do that to this day) took me to the Anamallai Club and introduced me to other people in the planting community. They invited me home frequently so that I was well fed and taken care of. Sometimes, when their daughter Jayshree was home from school, she would also accompany us to the Club and strangely a rabbit (Black-naped Hare) would run with us before the car, all the way back from Valparai. We would point him out to Jayshree and I can bear witness that it was a very athletic rabbit who ran all that way home to their bungalow. This happened only when Jayshree was in the car and we would point it out to her and say, ‘See Jayshree, there it is again.’ I think this was some magic associated with her alone.

For the next two years, before I was transferred to Murugalli, my day would begin in the Muster at 0600 reading AVG’s instructions in the Muster Book, written in his very neat handwriting. Brief, to the point and sometimes quite terse.  We carried them out and in the evening, I would go up to the Estate Office and would meet him to talk to him about anything important that had happened that day. AVG didn’t just teach me all that I needed to know about planting, but about managing people which was something much more valuable. I remember once, complaining very passionately about some skullduggery that was going on, involving some supervisors and workers. AVG listened patiently and then asked only one question, ‘Yawar, if everyone did what they are supposed to do, why would I need you?’ I didn’t say anything more, then or ever. I didn’t want him to ask me that question ever again. He never needed to.

I was transferred to Murugalli as the Factory Assistant, the following year. It was then that the idea of a brand-new tea factory was floated. Murugalli was an orthodox factory and we had Mr. Madhavan Nair as the Tea Maker. He taught me all about orthodox manufacture. Meanwhile the decision was taken to build the largest, most modern tea factory in the country which came to be known as Mayura. AVG was now Group Manager of Sheikalmudi Group and so was in-charge of the project. He needed an Assistant to be at the site and he chose me. There was some pushback from my Manager, Mr. K. C. Uthaiya who didn’t want to let me go. AVG asked me if I could manage two jobs. I was delighted and immediately agreed. So, I was appointed as the Site Manager for Mayura at no additional pay. Why did I accept? Because AVG had asked me and I am the kind of person who loves challenges. Two jobs are not easy to do especially when it involves going between two sites about four or five kilometers apart and even more when my motorcycle died and I had to walk. I did, many times, late at night. There was a shortage of cement and AVG sent me to Coimbatore to the ACC Cement factory to negotiate the price and buy what we needed. I spent several days there, covered with cement dust and thanking God when I could return to the purity of the hills. As the factory was nearing completion I went to Hyderabad for a week and returned with my wife Samina, who became a lifelong friend of AVG and Paro.

The day of the inauguration, I had been awake and working continuously for over 24 hours, when AMM Arunachalam, Chairman Murugappa Group who owned our company and Mayura factory, called AVG and while discussing who should officiate as the representative of the Murugappa family at the Ganapathy Homam (Ganesh Pooja) for the inauguration, asked AVG to suggest a name. AVG could have done it himself or suggested the name of anyone of the several Hindu managers. He suggested my name. AMM agreed and said that as long as I was agreeable, he would be happy to have me represent the family. AVG called me and asked me what I thought of the idea. I told him that I was honored but had no clue about what I was supposed to do. He said, ‘Don’t worry, ask Subanna.’ Subanna was our friend and the senior assistant manager in the group, Mr. M. Subramaniam. I called him and he said to me, ‘It is nothing at all. Just sit there, and the priest will guide you. He will give you some grains of rice and you have to keep throwing them into the fire as he chants the slokas.’ That didn’t sound very complicated and wasn’t. The whole proceedings took a couple of hours but it went through smoothly. Thus a factory owned by Chettiars, represented by a Muslim, was consecrated by Iyer priests. Sometimes, I wonder where those times vanished and instead we have the kind of hatred and enmity we see around us today.

That evening my wife and I were invited to dinner at Prema and Ricky Muthanna’s place. Ricky was the head of the BBTC Group and this dinner was in honor of my wife, welcoming her to the planting district. Such charming traditions of the planting world of those days. My car meanwhile, always running on a string, a bar of soap and a prayer, gave up the ghost and so at the end of over twenty-four sleepless hours, we had this dinner to go to and no car. AVG had just received his new car and needless to say, he offered it to me to take my wife to the dinner. I was most grateful and delighted to have the opportunity to drive a new car. We started out and went safely to Mudis and were made very welcome by Prema and Ricky. As in all planter’s parties, it starts with the drinks. I don’t drink and so very soon I found myself, as always at a different spiritual plane from those who were heavily fueled on Old Monk and Johnny Walker. It is not easy to sit in a corner and talk to a wall, since walls are good listeners but hardly ever respond to anything you say. Meanwhile, the exhaustion of the two days was hitting me. Prema saw me wilting in the corner and said to me, ‘I will give you both dinner. You eat and leave before you drop.’ I thought that was a very good idea and soon we were on our way back.

The thought of meeting elephants on the road, which was a distinct possibility in Mudis in those days, kept me awake. But as we took the final bend in the road leading up to my bungalow, there was a tremendous thud and the car stopped suddenly. I realized that I had fallen asleep and had gone off the road. That on a hill road with one side falling off into a deep ravine is not good news at all. What saved us was a tea bush which held the car and prevented it from going completely off the road and down the slope. But we still had one wheel off the road, and the car sitting on its chassis on the edge of the road. Not just any car. My manager’s new car.

By now it was past midnight. There was a small moon and so some little light. But no other light or sound. I sent Samina up to the bungalow. Then I walked down into the labour lines (housing) to the house of our estate mechanic Thangavelu and woke him up. He and I then went down to Mayura factory and borrowed a tractor. There were no drivers there, so I drove the tractor after Thangavelu jump started it, as it had no battery and so no lights. We drove to a place in the tea field adjacent to Candura Division where we recalled seeing some telephone cable. Sure enough there was a small roll of steel cable there. We picked it up and drove back up the hill to the car, tied the cable to the chassis at the back and hauled it back onto the road. I inspected the damage and found that apart from the indicator light on the left fender, the car was undamaged. That is when I started breathing again.

Next morning, I drove the car back to AVG’s bungalow and said to him, ‘Mr. Menon, I am sorry we had a small accident last night while returning from Mudis.’ His instant reaction, ‘Are you and Samina okay?’ I looked at him with my jaw hanging open. Not one word about his new car. I told him that we were fine but that his car had a broken indicator light. ‘That’s alright’, he said. ‘That can be replaced.’ That was it. Of such memories are friendships made. Today (Feb 1, 2018) AVG passed away. I lost a dear friend and mentor. A loss that can’t be replaced. AVGM – A Very Good Man.

My last meeting with AVG