The more I spent time with myself, clearer it became that it is important to be ‘friends’ with yourself. The more you are self-aware and comfortable internally, the more you can enjoy the world outside. When you are not aware of what is happening to you inside or are unhappy with decisions you have taken, or with your own internal processes, the unhappier you are likely to be with your surroundings. The normal tendency is to blame the outer world, but if one looks within, it is possible to find the solution. One rider however, that you will find only if you seek and only if you have the courage to recognize what you see. That is where sometimes the matter remains unresolved. Not because there is no solution. But because we are unwilling to accept the solution or to implement it.
In a Teacup
In a Teacup
The root of all motivation is to know what one can expect from one’s efforts. WiiFM is a station that everyone listens to. What’s in it for Me? People don’t always ask you that in so many words. But you can be certain that is what is in their minds all the time. If you can translate whatever you want them to do in language that will show them what they stand to gain, you won’t need to do any convincing. For this you need language. Speak the language and you are three-quarters of the way there. One of the things I was very proud of was my knowledge of and relationship with my workers. I knew them all by sight, most by name and of many, I knew their family connections as well. They, in turn, treated me more like a tribal chief cum family elder rather than the Manager of the estate.
Truly it is said that tea planting is not a job. It is a lifestyle and a way of life with its own norms, culture, taboos, ways, and manners. We in the hills, were a community, comprised of people from a huge diversity of backgrounds, who in the normal scheme of things would never have even known one another, let alone be friends. But in the plantations, we were not only friends but in the case of some of us, closer than family. I can say with total certainty about not one but many of my friends from tea – ranging from workers, to supervisors, staff and fellow managers – that we would have gladly given our lives for each other and feel privileged for the opportunity. We didn’t need to, but on a couple of occasions, it came close to that.
The plantation years were not all about work and unions. They were a time of great fun and fulfillment; of wonderful friendships and personal growth. During these years I was able to be in the rain forests of the Western Ghats and see in their natural habitat, animals that it had always been my desire to see. I have always had an abiding interest in ecology with specific reference to mammals and their habitat. What better place to indulge that than the Indira Gandhi National Park inside which I lived for the 7 years that I lived in the Anamallais.
Life was simpler in those days. We had less technology and more time. People were more open, warm, and less complicated. People looked at commonalities and bonded on that basis. If I think about how many differences there were between me and some of my dearest friends, I can tell you that we differed on many things. But what we had in common was enough to keep our hearts together for now over forty years. That is the real meaning of respect. Not to demand that everyone becomes vanilla flavor; one ‘official, approved version’. Real respect is to respect difference and the right of everyone to live that difference without demanding that they change or even explain why they are the way they are. Real respect for each other is to accept our differences like the giraffe accepts the elephant’s trunk while the elephant accepts the giraffe’s long neck. That’s it for now. Vanakkam!
It was many years later that I read the saying of Martin Luther King, Jr. which immediately made sense to me. He said: “Cowardice asks the question – is it safe? Expediency asks the question – is it politic? Vanity asks the question – is it popular? But conscience asks the question – is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular; but one must take it because it is right.” This is how I have always tried to live my own life. And any time I failed to do this, the folly immediately became clear to me and I repented. It is far more painful to succumb to oppression than to stand up against it. And to imagine that it is not oppression if it is not happening to you is the biggest mistake. Injustice to anyone is injustice to everyone. When you fail to stand up to it, something dies inside you.
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.
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.
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.
I got out of the car and turned to thank the kind gentleman and his wife who was with him only to see them getting off also. I hastened to tell them that it was not necessary for them to ring the doorbell for me and that I would see to all that myself. ‘Thank you very much for the lift. Please don’t bother to get off. I will go on from here’, I said. The gentleman gave me a sardonic smile and said, ‘I am Mr. Ahmedullah.’ That led to a sumptuous breakfast and then we got back into the car and he and his wife, who had been on their way to Cochin, before I interrupted their journey, drove me down the hill to the house, whose roof I had already seen and introduced me to Mr. AVG Menon and his wife Parvathy. I was to stay with them for the night and present myself the next morning at the Estates Office for my formal interview. A great lesson in graciousness and hospitality which I received from Ahmed and Anees which drove home to me what I later stated in my lectures as, ‘People listen with their eyes. They don’t care what you say, until they see what you do.’ I learnt many other things from Ahmed and Anees who are both very dear friends and before that, my elders and teachers. But this was the first of them. They could simply have driven me to AVG’s house without interrupting their journey to Cochin. Instead, they took me home, fed me and made me comfortable and only then took me to where I was to stay the night.