The tea plantations of the Sub-continent are a unique environment, be that in South India, Assam or Sri Lanka because they represent a completely artificial man-made community. The areas where tea is grown were, until a hundred years ago, pristine rain forest. Then came the British, having discovered wild tea in Assam as well as with stolen tea seedlings from China, which broke the tea monopoly of that country. Workers were transported from the plains of Tamilnadu for South Indian and Sri Lankan (Ceylon) plantations and from Orissa and Bengal for the Assam gardens. In South India most if not almost all of them were Dalits. They were housed in colonies according to their native areas. They built temples and either one of them officiated as the priest, having learned the rituals in Eklavya tradition (unofficially from some kind priest who would teach him) or they hired a poor Brahmin, who because he was paid by them, didn’t prevent them from entering the temple. This was not the case (and to this day it is not the case) in their own homelands, where Dalits, though officially classified as Hindu, are not permitted inside Hindu temples. This resulted in an egalitarian tradition which continues to this day, where everyone participates in all festivals and religious functions. The estate manager especially, irrespective of his religion, is expected to officiate at all religious functions of all religions and is specifically invited as the Chief Guest. Generally, this merely means putting in an appearance and flagging off a temple procession or lighting a lamp to signify the beginning of a ceremony or some other symbolic gesture. But it is nevertheless important and taken very seriously.
There is a book called Red Tea, by Paul Harris Daniel, which is a novel but is based on fact. The author took sworn affidavits from those whose stories he told. This book was published by Higginbotham’s in 1969 and was later made into the Tamil film ‘Paradesi’. The book gives a good account of what life in the early plantations was like and what the real price of tea is, not in money but in lives and blood of animals and men. Not to speak of the tremendous damage to the rain forests of Northeast and South India and Sri Lanka (Ceylon in those days). But those were the days before there was any awareness about these things and after all we were a colony to be exploited for the benefit of the British Empire and so we were; thoroughly.
When I joined planting in 1983, this was all history but there were still old workers who had seen a lot of what I have written above. One of them was Kullan, who was in his 70’s when I met him in 1983. We would sit on my veranda in the night and he would tell me stories about the ‘old days’ (Palaya Gaalam). That is the benefit of learning the language (Tamil, which I didn’t know a word of until I joined planting) and of having a good relationship with your workers. It was in the course of one of those sessions that he told me in a very matter of fact tone that the bungalow in which I lived (where we were sitting right then) was the estate hospital in those days and in the monsoon when there was an epidemic of cholera, many bodies were simply thrown into the ravine that was a little way behind the bungalow. “That is why their ghosts are still wandering here, Dorai”, he said to me. I must say that none of them ever bothered me, though Kullan was not the only one who mentioned ghosts in that bungalow.
The Muslim workers in Murugalli Estate where I was posted decided to dismantle the temporary shed that they used as a masjid and build a small, but permanent concrete structure in its place. They had collected some money and the company also gave them a small grant. But when they did the math in the end, they discovered that they had no money for the centering sheets to cast the concrete roof, nor did they have money for the labor to cast the slab. They came to me for advice to resolve this issue. I spoke to Mr. Dakshinamurthy, the Mayura Factory, Site Engineer, and he readily agreed to loan them the centering sheets free of cost. He also loaned them the concrete mixer. All that remained was the labor. I suggested to them that we do a working Sunday and get all the Muslim men to help with the labor and the Muslim women to make some food.
“Why do you need to pay for labor to build a masjid when we are all here?” I asked them. They all agreed enthusiastically. So, the following Sunday that is what we did. What fun we had!!
The Muslim workers in Murugalli were all from the Mallapuram district of Kerala. The women made some wonderful Malabari Biryani and we started early in the morning after a large mug of highly sweetened Malabari tea. We set up a human chain from the mixer to the top; I was on the top. The men started a chant in Malayalam as they passed up the concrete containers and we started pouring the concrete. This is a job that needs to be done without stopping, so as the day advanced and we became tired, the work became progressively more difficult. But the spirit of the work, the fact that we were building a masjid, and the promise of the Malabari Biryani, which was making its presence felt as its aroma floated on the air as it cooked, kept us going. By late afternoon the final load was cast, and we came down. Then after washing up, we sat down to a meal that was more delicious than I remembered eating ever before. Was it the food? Was it the hunger? Was it the fact that we were eating it after a day well spent? I don’t know. All I know is that it was wonderful to eat.
There is a sad ending to this part of my story. Dakshinamurty suddenly died in a very bizarre accident. He was at home one weekend and was having his head oiled. The barber who did the oil massage for him twisted his head to crack his spine. This is a very common practice in India and is done all the time without any adverse result. However, in Dakshinamurty’s case the man accidentally snapped his spinal cord. He was instantly paralyzed from the neck down and two days later he passed away. Sadly, he could not see the completion of Mayura Factory, the project that he had started. D.R.S. Chary stayed with me till the project was completed and then returned to Chennai where he lived. A couple of years later, I heard that he also passed away. I mourn the passing of these good people with whom I shared some wonderful times.
When Mayura was finally built and was to be inaugurated, Mr. AMM Arunachalam sent priests to do a puja – Ganapathy Homam (Havan), which was to start at 2:00 am the next morning and would go on for several hours. To my astonishment, Mr. AVG Menon called me and said, “AMM wants you to officiate as the representative of the Murgappa family at the puja. If you don’t want to do it, then he asked me to find someone else.” I was astonished to say the least because I am Muslim and I had never imagined that I would be asked to officiate at a Hindu puja, that too one which was so important to the Murugappa family. Obviously, it was a great honor and highly unusual. I told AVG that I would not actually be worshiping if I participated but he said that was alright. I asked him what I needed to do. He said to me, “You need to go there at 2:00 am when it starts and sit there with the priests. They will recite the slokas and every once in a while, the head priest will give you some grains of rice, which you must throw on to the fire.” That seemed simple enough and so I, a Muslim, officiated at a Ganapathy Homam on behalf of the Murugappa family at the opening of the Mayura Fatory in the Anamallais. I would like to believe that the extraordinary success of the factory was a result of my participation in its inauguration. In today’s India I wonder what happened to that India which I lived in. Where did it all go?
Once the puja was complete, we got ready for the formal inauguration to which the entire Board of Directors was invited including the Chairman Mr. AMM Arunachalam. This was followed by a lunch at the Group Manager, Mr. AVG Menon’s bungalow in Sheikalmudi. The building of Mayura Factory was a truly historic occurrence because tea factories are not built every day. Most in the Anamallais were over eighty years old at the time Mayura was built and commissioned (1985). On top of that it was the largest and most modern factory in India with computer-controlled systems and all kinds of bells and whistles. Since I was the man on the spot, so to speak, I had to be in many places at once and managed to do it. Everything went off well. Lunch finished late and we returned home close to 5:00pm. I had been awake and working for 48 hours straight with perhaps a short nap on my feet. But the day had not ended yet for me. We, my newly wedded wife and I, had a formal dinner to attend in Mudis.
Among the customs of plantation life was that of ‘calling on’ the seniors of the district. When you came in new or got married and your wife came to the estates, you called on the seniors of the district to introduce yourself and her. You telephoned or sent a letter saying that you would like to call on them and asked when would be convenient. These were formal social meetings and you were treated with great dignity and grace. This ‘calling on’ was usually for tea unless it was somebody you knew already, in which case you would be invited to dinner.
We had just got married (March 1985) and I returned with my wife, post haste to the estate because Mayura Factory opening was due. Two days after our marriage we boarded the train for Coimbatore from where we drove up the Aliyar Ghat of forty hairpin bends. My wife was violently sick all the way up the Ghat. Being prone to motion sickness, the Ghat road was not doing her any good at all. I was very concerned because this Ghat road was a given if we lived in the Anamallais and with my wife being so sick on it, it didn’t seem to portend well for us. The prospect of a repeat performance every time we traveled was definitely not something to look forward to. But as it happened after a couple of trips my wife got over her motion sickness altogether. Maybe the Ghat road shocked it out of her system.
As was the custom of the plantations when anyone got married and returned with his wife, there was a round of parties to meet the couple. So also, in our case and since I was the Secretary of the Anamallai Club, I had more than my fair share of friends and so we had a party to go to every night. The parties were formal suit and tie affairs and the hostess would go to great lengths to cook special dishes in honor of the guests and at the end the couple would be given a gift. In a place where social relationships were very important, these parties were not simply for entertainment. They were rites of passage and thresholds of entry from bachelorhood to marriage, which gave you a higher level of status and respect. They also had a ‘snob value’ associated with who invited you and who didn’t. I didn’t bother with that at all, but then again, I was invited by everyone, so it didn’t matter. The parties were also a good way to introduce the new bride to a way of life that was foreign to her and helped her to make contacts with senior ladies and others more experienced in this lifestyle, which could be challenging for someone born and brought up in the city. Most people who go to tea gardens for a holiday in good weather don’t realize the difficulty of that environment for those who must live there all year round.
The estate workers also welcomed the Assistant Manager when he returned with his wife. In my case, the Candoora workers were the first. As our car rounded the bend off the Sholayar Dam and came towards ‘Black Bridge,’ we were stopped and requested to alight. We both came out of the car, glad for the chance to stretch our legs. The road was lined with girls who sang a welcome song and showered us with flower petals as we walked through this guard of honor. We were taken to a small pavilion which I realized had been made by tying the best sarees of the women to the poles and decorated with lots of flowers. Tea garden workers can be the most loving people in the world and if you are good to them, they appreciate it and reciprocate. I saw many examples of that in my decade long career. We were garlanded and sat at a table on the two grandest chairs that they could find. Then we were served tea with biscuits and sweets. It was then that a depressed fly decided to end its meaningless life in my wife’s tea cup. But my wife being the perfect lady that she is, merely fished out the fly and drank the tea without batting an eyelid. An amazing performance which saved us from a lot of embarrassment. Those poor workers had taken so much trouble to welcome us that it would have been very ungraceful to complain, even about the suicide of a fly.
Then speeches were made, and the women danced and sang another song in our honor in which we were mentioned repeatedly in sometimes a humorous way and sometimes with great respect. The amazing thing was that this song was made up then and there and they sang about various habits of mine, including singing while I rode my motorcycle. People observed you and remembered and mentioned what you did. All the more reason to ensure that whatever it was, remained good and honorable. At the end of this song and dance there were some speeches by the local union leaders and one supervisor and then I was asked to speak. It was permitted for the manager to speak in English and the speech would be translated. But I had learnt Tamil for occasions such as these and spoke it well, much to everyone’s delight. When I had finished and thanked them for all their trouble and expressed our gratitude for the honor that we had been granted, they gave my wife a gold ring as their gift as a mark of their love and honor for me. I was floored. These were poor people who had collected money for this, something which was not expected of them at all. What could I say? As I mentioned earlier, Managers and workers in the plantations form bonds that are more like family than anything else.
To return to the daily dinner parties in our honor, these daily night outings were so frequent that my wife could recognize a road only in the dark. The parties, enjoyable though they were and were a good way to meet friends who lived too far to visit frequently, could be very taxing as they tended to go on very late. I was expected to put in an appearance at the morning muster on the estate at 6:00 am no matter when we returned. The night of Mayura Factory inauguration (the day that started at 2:00 am), we had been invited to dinner at the home of our dear friends, Prema and Ricky Muthanna in Mudis. Ricky was the General Manager of BBTC and we were honored to be invited to their home. As it happened, there was no time even for a short snooze in the afternoon thanks to the inauguration and to top it all, my car was once again in hospital. I didn’t fancy the idea of going all the way to Mudis (about thirty km on serpentine estate roads, decorated with potholes) on my motorcycle. I asked AVG Menon to borrow his new car, an Ambassador, for the evening and he graciously agreed.
We set off at about 7:00 pm as the dinner was for 8:00 pm. I was exhausted as I had been awake for 48 hours, but we set off, my wife and I, on this long drive. We arrived at Prema and Ricky’s house to a very warm welcome. My wife and Prema became friends instantly and have remained friends all these years. Ricky and Prema’s home was a delight, very tastefully decorated and one of the iconic bungalows in the Anamallais. It was the only bungalow to my knowledge which had a central courtyard with a veranda all around it and so it had a garden inside and outside. Prema had called a lot of people in our honor and the house was full of our friends and some others who I knew by name but was meeting for the first time.
All plantation parties (except in my house) started with drinks, which the men consumed in large quantities while the women sipped soft drinks and discussed matters of great import. As I was not one for the spiritual experience, I would take my orange juice or fresh lime soda and chat with whoever was still on mother earth. But as many left for higher altitudes in proportion to the spirit inside them, I would usually take myself off into a corner and contemplate the world. That day I was so sleepy and tired that my eyes were self-shutting unable to withstand the weight of my eyelids, while the party was in full swing. I was clearly out of it. Prema saw me in that state and said to us, ‘Yawar looks like he is going to drop. Let me give you dinner so that you can eat and leave. I have no idea when these men will eat, and you look like you won’t last too long.’ I agreed wholeheartedly, and we ate, said our farewells quietly and left.
Even up to that point I had my faculties still intact. You had to be alert when driving in the Anamallais, both because of the road conditions as well as the possibility of coming upon a herd of elephants or gaur around a bend. That night was mercifully elephant free and we reached Lower Sheikalmudi Estate without incident. As I took the final turn on the road leading up to our bungalow (the ‘Tennis Court Bungalow’), I relaxed and that was my undoing. The next thing I knew, there was a crash and the car came to an abrupt halt. I was shocked back into awareness and realized that I had driven off the road. The left front wheel of the car was hanging off the side of the road in midair with the front fender resting against a tea bush, which was the reason we didn’t go all the way down into the ravine. The chassis was resting on the road bed. My wife and I were shocked. It was 2:00 am and there we were.
I realized that this was not a good situation because the car didn’t belong to me. It was Mr. Menon’s car and a new one to boot. It was therefore my responsibility to get out of this situation. It didn’t even occur to me that I could leave the car where it was until morning and then get assistance to take it out of its predicament. I had crashed it and it was up to me to get it out. And I had to do it right away; it was not even a matter to think about. As it was, the car was directly below a stairway that led up to our house. I got my wife to walk up to the house so that she would be safely home. Then I went in search of a tractor to pull the car out. I knew that the leaf transport tractors – Massey Ferguson – used to be parked near Mayura Factory, about two kilometers from where I was. Our roads had no street lights and it was a dark night. The tea fields were home to wild boar and other friendly species, not to mention several species of snakes, but none of them was my boss while AVG Menon was. So, I hiked off in search of a tractor. On the way I called my good friend, mechanic Thangavelu, because there was no way that I could pull the car out alone. He and his ever-present smile came out of his house as if he had been waiting for me. Both of us got to where the tractors were parked and selected the one we wanted.
None of the tractors had self-starters and used to be parked on an incline so that you could roll down and start the engine. And they had no lights; I never understood why. Working in starlight, I got into the driver’s seat, rolled down, and started the tractor. Now we needed a tow rope. Thangavelu recalled that the telephone company people had been working on a line passing through one of our fields and had left a coil of telephone wire there. So off we went, with Thangavelu standing on a plank behind me, holding the seat as I drove the tractor. We picked up the coil of wire and drove back to where the car was; hooked up the wire to the chassis at the back and pulled the car back on the road. When I examined the damage, I saw that the tea bush had taken the shock and except for a small side indicator light, nothing was broken. That was a big relief to put it mildly. Thangavelu and I, then took the tractor back to its parking spot and I drove home at 3:30 am. I still recall the first thing that AVG asked me when I told him that we’d had an accident in his new car. He said, “I hope you both are alright?” I told him that we were fine but that his new car had been inaugurated with a broken indicator light. He was amused and laughed it off and said, “That can be fixed. I am happy that nothing happened to you both.”
That is why we used to call him A Very Good Menon (AVG Menon).
For more, please see my book, ‘It’s my Life’.
One of the first things that strikes you as you enter any ‘Tea District’ is the tea factory. These in many if not most cases are over a century old, build entirely of wood on a structure of steel girders. The machinery, especially in the Orthodox factories is fit for a museum. For the uninitiated, ‘Orthodox’ refers to the type of manufacture and not the religious inclinations of the manager. This was the case when I entered planting in 1983. Then in 1985 our company, Parry Agro, decided to build a spanking new CTC (another way of manufacturing tea) in the Anamallais. I was closely associated with the project from the word ‘Go.’ The factory was built on Lower Sheikalmudi Estate and AVG Menon, my first manager was made responsible for the project, since he was the Group Manager for the Sheikalmudi Group. He appointed me as his assistant for the day to day supervision of the construction and so I became the defacto Site Manager of the project. At this time, I was the Assistant Manager in Murugalli Estate with responsibility for Murugalli Factory (Factory Assistant). I now had two jobs, reported to two managers and no additional pay. I was delighted, and it didn’t even occur to me to ask for more money for doing almost double the work that anyone else was doing. Not because I am allergic to money but because I was going to get a chance to build something that others had only done a century ago; build a tea factory.
I lived in a bungalow that was midway between Murugalli Factory and the site of the proposed Mayura factory and was the proud possessor (company issue) of a Royal Enfield 350 cc motorcycle. This ran on a mixture of petrol and faith aided by gravity when coasting down hill after its engine periodically decided to give up the ghost. I would then roll down the road to its end and hand over the bike to its resurrector, Thangavelu, our mechanic who had no formal education in automobile engineering but could make anything with wheels run, when all others had given up on it. It was (and is) a fascinating fact about our tea gardens, factories that for literally over a century, they are run by people like Thangavelu who learnt their art as apprentices with some other mechanic and run machinery that would be a major challenge for highly qualified engineers. These people have no diagnostic tools, no meters, just a spanner and a pair of pliers; but with that they moved mountains. This is an unsung lot who work from generation to generation and disappear quietly into the environment, none the wiser or even grateful that thanks to them, they (the unwise and ungrateful) got their daily cuppa.
Thangavelu looked like he had lube oil in his veins. His clothes looked like leather, thanks to the amount of oil they had absorbed. He had three teeth in his top jaw and a few more in the bottom, all visible because he never stopped smiling from ear to ear, come rain or sunshine. He never walked. He trotted. His heart was made of gold and he was my brother. He still is, and now retired, I hope he has a long and happy life. Apart from his genius with motorcycles, he repaired tractors, cars, factory machinery and worked a lathe machine. I wanted a pruning knife, a wicked blade 18 inches long and curved at the end, sharp enough to shave the hair on your arm (that is how we used to test it). Thangavelu started with a broken piece of truck spring blade and created a knife nestled in a handle made of Sambar horn (they shed annually), bound with brass hoops. It was a work of art and I had it for many years, until the Deputy Forest Officer coveted it and expropriated it in exchange for releasing ten of my workers who got arrested for killing a barking deer. But that is another story.
I mentioned Thangavelu (that is him but without his smile because he thinks this photo taking is serious business) because I mentioned my Royal Enfield motorcycle, my sole means of transport. And that, because one day it died. Truly forever. That left me in the situation where I was in-charge of two projects, Murugalli Factory and the Mayura construction project and no transport. I asked my Manager who was my immediate superior and who had not been happy at all at my appointment with additional responsibility for Mayura, if he could let me have another bike. He said to me, ‘Who told you to accept the additional responsibility? Now ask whoever appointed you.’ That meant that I was to ask AVG Menon who had asked for me. I refused to do that as I had no intention of getting in the middle of company politics. In any case, I was very pleased with the appointment and didn’t want to go to AVG with this kind of stuff. So, I used to walk every day twice, to both factories, clocking in about 15-16 kilometers all told. That continued until one day I was hoofing it when a car drove up from behind me and I heard a cheery, ‘Hello! Yawar!’ It was Mr. Rawlley, the Visiting Agent (an old British period title that was still used in those days even after the Agency system no longer existed), on his inspection tour of our group of estates. ‘Why on earth are you walking?’ he asked. I told him the story and that evening, much to my manager’s acidity and flatulence, I got a new bike.
Mayura was unique for many reasons. For one thing, it would have a capacity to process one-hundred-thousand kilograms of green leaf per day. At a time when the average production was two-thousand-five-hundred kilograms made-tea per hectare, this was a huge figure, one that nobody thought could ever be reached. It was the vision of Mr. K. Ahmedullah and Mr. N. K. Rawlley, who were the General Manager and Visiting Agent respectively. They proposed the theory that creating capacity would stimulate production as it would put pressure on the estates to supply the factory. Initially, nobody believed them except the Murugappa family; Mr. Alagappan and Mr. AMM Arunachalam in particular. But that was enough as they were the ones who were funding the project. Once the factory was completed, Ahmed’s and Nickoo’s vision was proved right. The production of the estates went up from two-thousand-five-hundred to four-thousand kilograms per hectare. Needless to say, this did not happen by magic. A lot of people put in a lot of effort, but there is no doubt that it was the presence of Mayura that pushed us all to excel. Once again this proved to me the value of vision.
Since the Anamallais is hilly, locating a huge factory was no easy task. It involved leveling the land first, to create the construction site. The main building was on columns, but we still needed a level site to locate all the rest of the buildings and bays. We had two bulldozers brought up from Coimbatore to do the cutting and filling of soil on the hillside to get enough level land to start building. I went down to the site on the first day that the work started. The bulldozer operators were already on their machines with the engines running. I called the leader of the team to give him instructions. He switched off the engine and came to me. I showed him from which part of the hillside I wanted the soil to be cut and where I wanted it to be moved and dumped so that eventually we would get a flat surface. He listened in silence, then handed me the key and said, “Why don’t you show me how to do it?”
I was taken aback by this obvious insubordination so early in the morning. But I took the key from him, climbed up on the track of the dozer and into the seat. I started the engine, engaged gear, and started cutting the soil. I worked for about half an hour. Then I parked the machine, switched off the engine, got off the machine, and handed the key back to the driver and walked away, all in silence. I had a hard time keeping a straight face at the look of shock on the driver’s face for having called his bluff. The long and short of this was that I never had a problem with that driver again for the duration of the land clearing stage. When the work was done, and the drivers were going back, he came to me and said, “I apologize for challenging you on the first day, but tell me where did you learn to drive a bulldozer?” I told him, “In future, before you challenge anyone, find out what they know.”
My knowledge of bulldozers and machinery was acquired in Guyana in the mines, when I was doing a Job Evaluation exercise in the company and had to evaluate the difficulty of each job. Knowing how to do the job yourself is obviously a big advantage and not one that most non-technical people have. I had very good relations with the bulldozer, truck (50 ton CAT dump trucks) and dragline crane operators and they gladly taught me how to drive them. For them I was a curiosity, a young Indian boy in his early 20’s willing to learn from grizzled West Indian African experts whose hands were like steel encased in sandpaper. That I was their superior in rank meant nothing. That I was willing to learn and not throw my weight around meant everything in my favor. I was welcomed. We joked, shared our meals and I spent many happy hours in the cabin of a truck or bulldozer deep in the Amazonian rain forest or in the great mine pit.
My learning in this incident of the bulldozer at Mayura fatory, many years later, was the fact that to build credibility it is important to be able to lead from the front. You don’t have to do people’s jobs for them. It is not even desirable to do this. But you do need to demonstrate that you know what they do and can do it if necessary. It is when subordinates get the impression that you know nothing about what they do, that it makes them nervous and lose motivation. The good ones feel a little lost. The crooks take you for a ride.
Mayura Factory’s construction was a time of learning for me. The site engineer was a wonderful elderly gentleman called Mr. D.R.S. Chary, who stayed with me in my bungalow throughout the project. He was a very well read and learned man, many years my senior but with a great sense of humor. We hit it off from the first day and became great friends. Chary taught me a great deal about constructing large buildings. I found this a fascinating time and used every opportunity I could, to add to my knowledge. On the factory site, the contractor’s site engineer was another wonderful man called Mr. Dakshinamurthy. He also became a good friend and was helpful in many ways.
Chary and I lived in the bungalow behind the tennis court. We could see the construction site from our veranda. Since Chary was a Brahmin, out of consideration for him, I had instructed my cook and butler Bastian, not to cook any meat while he was staying with us. No meat was cooked for over six months in our kitchen. I would go to some of my other friends like Berty Suares and Taher for my meat fix.
The bungalow had a somewhat shady history in that it was supposed to have been the estate hospital in the remote past during an epidemic and many people had died in it. It also had the dubious distinction of having a resident demon. There was a small shrine at one end of the garden, which I was told was a shrine to Karpuswamy (literally means: Black God), who the people described as a very powerful and evil entity that needed to be placated with an annual animal sacrifice. The sacrifice itself was not done in the Bungalow garden because it was done at a larger temple, but every morning one of the tea plucker women would put some flowers at the shrine. Chary, like most highly educated Hindus, did not believe in any of this, given more to keeping to the social norms than any real religious belief in the mythology.
Some weeks after Chary and I moved into the bungalow, some rumors started to circulate in the estate to say that my bungalow was haunted and that people had seen Karpuswamy near the bungalow at night. I saw nothing and was not perturbed by the rumors. I don’t believe in ghosts and don’t believe that anything can harm or benefit anyone except the Creator Himself. I slept well. Chary told me one day when he was leaving after the completion of Mayura Factory that he never seemed to sleep well in this bungalow. But I was not sure how much of that was because of some unconscious effect of the rumors and how much of it was plain indigestion or some such thing. He was over sixty years old at the time, after all.
I had recently bought a used Ambassador car. It had the dubious distinction of having belonged to the son of Marri Chenna Reddy a former Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh. Among its other attributes was the fact that it was graced with a carburetor that was cracked down the middle and was held together with a wire. Now hold on – before you go making sly remarks about Ambassadors, ask yourself, ‘which other car would still run in this condition?’ And run it did. However, it did need long hours in the workshop. In the plantations the workshop came to you, as did most other things. One night, Velayudhan, the mechanic, was working on the car in my garage behind the house. He worked late into the night and promised to return the next day to complete the job. The next morning there was no sign of him and when I sent someone to look for him, the man returned and said that Velayudhan was in hospital.
I was very surprised and concerned as the man had been working in my house the previous evening and had been well and healthy. What could have happened to him for him to be hospitalized? He was a cheerful and willing worker and I had a very good relationship with him, so I was genuinely concerned for him. I went to the hospital and first asked the doctor what the matter was with Velayudhan. The doctor told me that he had been brought to the hospital late the previous night in a hysterical state, his heartbeat racing and in a semi-conscious state. He was so bad that the doctor had been afraid the man would have a heart attack or a stroke. All this seemed to have been brought about by intense fear. He had to be given a heavy dose of sedative to put him to sleep. In short, the man had been extremely frightened by someone or something.
I went to see him and he told me the story, which I present to you without comment.
He said to me, “Dorai, I had finished my work for the day on your car and decided to take the short cut through the tea field down the hillside instead of the main road. It was a full moon night and the footpath was clearly visible in the moonlight. As I started down the path, I suddenly heard a heavy snort behind me, like a cow sometimes makes as it is grazing. I looked back over my shoulder and saw a huge man with flaming red eyes and huge teeth. I turned and ran and then I fell down and fainted.” Some people who were going past on the main road below heard the sound of his running and then saw him fall. They picked him up and took him to the hospital. There was some suspicion that perhaps he’d hit the bottle, but the doctor denied that and said that he did not show any sign of having been inebriated. He was just very badly terrified and completely hysterical with fear.
I lived in that bungalow for two years and went in and out at all hours, but never saw a thing. That is what led to the rumor that Karpuswamy was the guard on the bungalow and guarded me. In the plantations such rumors add to your mystique and reputation. In any case, I could do nothing to refute it.
A year later, another incident added some more grist to the mill.
There was a supervisor who was very corrupt, so I dismissed him. He was naturally very upset and angry with me and threatened me with many things. He did not say any of this to me directly of course, but various rumors started floating that he would do black magic against me. Black magic is quite prevalent in India and in the plantations and many people claimed either to do it or had been its victims. When these stories got to me, I said, “If anyone does anything against me, it will turn against him. I worship AllahY and nothing can happen to me without His will. I ask Him to protect me.” That put a stop to all the talk that came to me.
Then one day, I was walking in the field with my Field Officer Mr. O. T. Varghese, a wonderful elderly man who taught me a lot about tea planting. Suddenly a tea plucker woman came running to us, wailing all the while and fell at my feet. She was wailing, “Only you can save me. Have mercy on my husband……” and so on. I was taken aback to say the least. After a while, Mr. Varghese and I managed to get some sense out of her. Mr. Varghese told me that she was the wife of the dismissed supervisor. She told us that her husband had gone to a black magic expert in their village and asked him to put a spell on me to kill me. However, the spell backfired on him and now he was dying and was in hospital, where they had brought him the previous evening. She begged me to go with her and see her husband.
I agreed, though I thought to myself that this was a jolly good thing and served him right for his efforts. After all, his wife had not tried to stop him from his nefarious activity and if he had succeeded, his wife would have been sitting pretty with him and not running to my aid. Anyway, Mr. Varghese and I reached the hospital and I asked the doctor about the patient.
He said to me that there was nothing wrong with him except that he was in a state of very high excitement and terror and had not slept for more than 72 hours. His heart was racing and the doctor was fearful that if he continued in this way for a few more hours it was entirely likely that he would have a heart attack. I entered the room after getting this information. As soon as I entered, the man literally fell off the bed and put his head on my feet. Weeping, he cried, “Dorai, please forgive me. I tried to do something bad to you, but it has come to me. I have children Dorai and they will become orphans if I die. Please forgive me Dorai and take this thing away from me.” It was the strangest experience that I have ever had in my life. I told him to get up and pulled him up by his arm and put him back on the bed. Then I asked for some water and recited Sura Al Fatiha (the first chapter in the Qur’an) and the Al Muwaddathian, the last two chapters and blew on the water and told him to drink it. I told his wife to give him what was left of the water later in the evening. Then I left. The doctor told me later that shortly thereafter the man slept and the next morning he was discharged.
Never a dull moment in the estates.
For more, please see my book, ‘It’s my Life’.
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:
- Seeing is believing versus Belief in the Unseen
- Source of power is wealth versus Source of power is Allahﷻ.
- All those in my work are Competitors versus all those in my work are Partners
- Inviting towards self; versus inviting towards Allahﷻ
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- My purpose is not to criticize but to try to assist them in their work.
- 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 Allahﷻ.
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 Muhammadﷺ 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 Muhammadﷺ): “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 Muhammadﷺ): “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 Allahﷻ
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.’
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 (Muhammadﷺ) 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.
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.
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’.