What’s your Worth?

What’s your Worth?

‘If you want to see what someone values, see what they measure.’

Mikel Harry, Motorola, 6 Sigma Quality

What does being human mean?

Many years ago, in the 1970’s I remember seeing a Russian tractor. India used to have a bilateral trade agreement with the USSR by which we bought all kinds of goods from Russia and paid for them in Indian Rupees, whereby we were able to conserve our meagre foreign exchange. You can read more about that agreement here http://www.commonlii.org/in/other/treaties/INTSer/1953/16.html

Russia bought tea from us; huge quantities of rather poor-quality teas and supplied us with manufactured goods. This tractor was one such, representing perhaps ten years supply of the morning cuppa to a Russian farmer. What amazed me was its size. It was massive. Not merely big or huge, but massive. Later someone told me that these tractors were failures and people went back to buying the smaller and lighter, Massey-Ferguson tractors, even though they came from a place which was ideologically inferior to the Great Socialist Republic.

I knew the answer but asked him why Massey-Ferguson tractors were considered superior and why the Russian tractor had failed. And sure enough he said, ‘We use tractors to plough in rice fields. A heavy tractor sinks into the soil and even if it has the power to get out, it churns up the soil so much that it spoils everything. Sometimes it gets stuck so badly that we have to yoke bullocks to it to haul it out. Why buy a tractor if you still need bullocks?’ Why indeed!

I did some research into why Russian tractors were so heavy. Massive blocks of steel. The answer I got was that Russian factories measured output by the amount of steel consumed. If you were a factory manager and had to show high production figures, you had to show that you were consuming a high tonnage of steel. There are two ways to do that. Make lots of lighter tractors or fewer but much heavier ones. Which is easier? You guessed it. And there you have, massive tractors, that make the Production Reports look good. How do they work in the field? Depends on the field. Maybe they worked fine in the Russian steppe, ploughing to grow wheat or corn. But in India, in rice fields they failed. To this day in some villages you can see a massive steel tractor gently rusting, testimony to an age of mindless industrialization where progress was measured by weight.

You get what you measure… so let us ask, “How do we measure human worth?”

Today we live in a world where dignity has quite wrongfully been linked to material wealth. No matter how learned a man or woman may be, or how kind or truthful or trustworthy, if they are not wealthy, they are treated with disdain. Net worth has only one meaning. And I can’t think of a more dishonorable meaning; to equate a person to the amount of money in his pocket. HNI; what if it meant Person with the best character? Instead of Person with the most money, no matter how he earned it and no matter what his character is like. Not to say that all rich people are evil. They aren’t. I am talking about what we measure which shows what we truly value. If we measured character, truthfulness, kindness, compassion, courage, dignity, concern for the underprivileged, the weak, elderly, poor, sick; then that is how we would define ourselves. High Networth Individual would mean the kindest, most truthful, most compassionate, most courageous person in that society. We wouldn’t glorify ostentation, waste, self-centered consumption, cruelty, oppression. We would call Aristotle, ‘The Great’, instead of Alexander, whose only claim to fame was that he left Macedonia to rape, plunder and loot his way across a million square miles of others’ homes and societies. Who we glorify and celebrate, tells a much bigger story about who we are than about who they were.

Ask, what would the implications of living in such a society be on people’s happiness and self-worth; real self-worth, not pretentions to it. I believe this is something to think about.

If we applied today’s standard of HNI – High Networth Individual, how would people like Hillel and Shammai, Al Ghazali, Al Biruni, Ibn Sinna, Abu Hanifa, Ahmad bin Hanbal, Jalauddin Rumi and so many sages and scholars of so many traditions, look? How would you judge the Networth of Aristotle, Epictetus, Plato, or even the prophets like Moses, Abraham, and perhaps most of all Jesus (Peace be on them all) – about whom Muhammad (Peace be on him) said, “The sky was his roof and the earth his bed.” Today he would probably be in a homeless shelter after having been arrested from a park bench or pavement and taken there by the police.

Conversely if we applied an ethical and moral standard to decide who was an HNI and who wasn’t, how would Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, the various Middle Eastern Potentates, and the many billionaires in different countries, look? Especially if you consider the fact that the poorest countries in the world today seem to have the highest number of billionaires. Many of them living in high-rise palaces with their feet grounded in the misery and squalor of the daily lives of the poor. Not ashamed, not troubled, not even giving it a second thought as they go about trying to outdo each other in vulgar display of wealth; not by competing in charity but in wastage and excess.

Rabbi Elazar said: The reward for charity is paid from Heaven only in accordance with the kindness and generosity included therein and in accordance with the effort and the consideration that went into the giving. It is not merely in accordance with the sum of money, as it is stated: “Sow to yourselves according to charity and reap according to kindness.

Islam is very particular about preserving the dignity of the receiver so that he doesn’t feel demeaned because he needs to accept charity. Islam says that the one who receives, honors the one who gives because by giving the giver is receiving reward from Allahﷻ whereas the one receiving is only getting something material from another human being. So, the giver gives and thanks the receiver for accepting it.

‘If you want to know what someone values, see what they measure.’

There is a wonderful story about the Regent of the Moghal Emperor Akbar, who came to the throne at the age of ten and had a Regent who ruled in his name until he came of age and who was his mentor, teaching him how to be King. His name was Abdur Raheem and his title was Khan-e-Khanaan (The Khan of Khans – Chief of Chiefs). He was a very learned man, a polymath, a scholar of Islam and known for his great wisdom and sagacity.

One day Abdur Raheem Khan-e-Khanaan was traveling from Delhi, the capital, to Agra. Needless to say, he was preceded by his massive entourage and surrounded by his escorting troops and personal bodyguard. On the way he saw a man standing at the edge of the road with a glass bottle in his hand in which were a few drops of water. The man would tilt the bottle until the few drops of water were at the lip of the bottle, in danger of falling out, and would then straighten the bottle so that they didn’t fall out. This he kept doing over and over. Abdur Raheem ordered his carriage to stop and ordered his treasurer to give the man a bag of gold coins. This was done.

That evening, when he was in camp and his Durbar had been set up and he was receiving petitions, his treasurer asked him, “Your Grace, why did you give that man a bag of gold coins? Who was that man?”

Abdur Raheem Khan-e-Khanaan said, “I am surprised you are asking this question. Didn’t you see what the man was saying?”

The treasurer said, “Your Grace, all I saw was that the man was tilting the bottle until the water in it almost flowed out, but he would save it at the last moment and didn’t allow it to fall out. But what does that mean?”

Abdur Raheem said, “It means that the man was saying, “I have lost everything except two drops of honor. And now even that is about to go.” If he had come and begged me for charity, it would be at the expense of his honor. So, I ordered you to give him the gold so that his honor is preserved, and nobody knows that he received charity.

Today as we speak there is a raging debate about the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir. On one side are those who claim that this is good for the people of Kashmir who will now be able to sell their land and become wealthy. They say that this will bring in much needed new business and tourism and thereby jobs and boost the economy. Even those who normally walk the high talk of ethics and morals supported the bill in Parliament on the plea that it was ‘good for the people of Kashmir’. On the other side are those arguing that you can’t take unilateral action without consulting the people, on the plea that it is good for them? Why were the people themselves, whose welfare seems to be everyone’s concern, not taken into confidence before taking the action of abrogating a Sovereign Guarantee enshrined in nothing less than the Indian Constitution?

What is a Sovereign Guarantee? It is a guarantee given by the Nation. Not by the government in power at the time. But by the Nation, to fulfill whatever it was that was guaranteed. No matter if the government that gave the guarantee changes. The guarantee would still be valid and sacrosanct. Especially where it is enshrined in the Constitution, it is inviolate and inviolable. However, it looks like today we seem to have changed the meaning of Sovereign Guarantee. Does this mean that a Sovereign Guarantee can never be changed? No, it doesn’t. It means that it can’t be changed unilaterally. If the two parties in the guarantee mutually agree to change it, then it can be changed honorably. But both parties must be involved in the re-negotiation and must come to a new agreement. For one party to unilaterally change a Sovereign Guarantee is not honorable. Do we even know what honorable means today? After all, today our highest criterion for decision making seems to be political expediency.

I am not against economic development. I am against giving it precedence over honor, truthfulness and integrity. After all, if we do that, then what’s wrong with drug dealing, stealing, bribing, human trafficking and a plethora of ways to make money? It is only truthfulness, the sense of right and wrong, virtue and sin that is the demarcating line between what is honorable and what is not. Al Capone was an entrepreneur, wasn’t he? So is Bill Gates. Is there a difference? Who would you like to be? If I break my word once, then what value does my promise have in the future? It takes a lifetime to build trust but to destroy it, all it takes is one instant. Take an expensive crystal vase and drop it on a stone floor. As it shatters into a thousand pieces, you will perhaps understand what I mean by keeping and breaking promises. Can it be put back if you are able to collect all the pieces? Perhaps it can. But it will never be the same. You will always be able to see the fault lines. Another simple way to understand this is to ask yourself this question, “Who would I rather deal with? A person who keeps his word or one who is liable to betray it if it suits him?” A Sovereign Guarantee is not about the matter that you are guaranteeing. It is about us as a Nation. It tells the world who we are. Or more accurately about how we choose to define ourselves. The world merely agrees.

As Mikel Harry said, ‘If you want to see what people value, see what they measure.’ Let us ask ourselves, what do we measure? Not just pay lip service to. But measure because we value it.

It was 1980. I was working in Guyana, in a small mining town on the River Berbice, called Kwakwani. I had saved up money to take my first holiday and planned to go to London. As I was going to pass through the United States, I thought it would be a good idea if I could stop by and visit some friends and see New York. But there was one problem. I applied for a visitor’s visa to the US but was refused. The Immigration Officer thought that as I was young, single, and unattached, I would stay on in the US illegally. So, sadly, I only transited in New York and went on to London. In 1982, when I decided to return to India though I would need to transit through New York and was dying to see the city, I did not even plan to apply for a visitor’s visa as I was sure I would be refused again for the same reason.

However, one weekend a few months before I was due to leave, I went to visit my good friend Rev. Thurston Riehl who was the Vicar of Christchurch Vicarage, the Anglican Church in Georgetown. He lived in a lovely wooden bungalow in the Church compound with his wife Clarissa Riehl, who was the Public Prosecutor in the High Court. Father Riehl told me that he had invited a few people over that evening and one of them was the Deputy Consul General of the United States, a man named Dennis Goodman. Father Riehl said that he would recommend my case to Goodman to see if it would help. I agreed. That evening when the introductions had been done, Father Riehl said, “Yawar is going back to India and wants to see New York. He had applied for a visa in 1980 but was refused. Do you think there is a chance that he can get a visa this time?”

Goodman turned to me and asked, “What is the guarantee that you will not stay on illegally if we give you a visa. Please don’t be offended. This is a very common thing and something that the visa officer will need to be convinced about.”

“I give you my word that I will not stay on illegally. More than that, I can’t do.” I said. Dennis Goodman simply looked at me in silence and then said, “Please come and see me the next time you are in Georgetown.”

So promptly the following week I went to the US Consulate to see Mr. Goodman. Those were the days before the security nightmares that you have to face today, and I was conducted straight away to his office. He gave me an application form, and after I had filled it in, he accompanied me to the Visa Section next door. There he asked me to wait at the window and went behind the counter. The window had a glass panel and a mike into which you had to speak.

As Dennis Goodman walked into the office, the lady at the counter turned to talk to him and forgot to switch off her mike. So, I was unwittingly privy to their conversation.

Goodman: “Can you please give him a visitor’s visa? He is going back home and wants to see New York.”

“Hi Dennis, give me a second.” The lady checked her records and said, “Did he tell you that his brother is already there? This guy is not leaving once he lands in New York, believe me.”

Goodman: “He gave me his word that he will leave.”

“His word?? What on earth is that?? Don’t tell me you believe him!!”

Goodman: “As a matter of fact, I do. So please give him the visa. I will guarantee that he will not stay illegally.”

“Okay Sir, it’s your neck!!”

Then she turned back to the window where I was and said to me, “Please come in the evening and collect your passport.” I thanked her and left. Neither of them was aware that I’d heard their entire conversation.

I landed in America, stars in my eyes. I was given a stay permit for three weeks. I was however not prepared for the reception that I got. After the initial welcome, all my friends got after me to find a job. I tried to tell them that I had not come to stay and that I was only visiting on my way back to India. The conversations all went something like this:

“I have a friend who runs a restaurant and is looking for help. You can start waiting at tables and then see where it takes you. Nothing to worry. We all start the same way in this country but see where we are today. Here they pay you by the hour. No way you can get that in India.”

“I haven’t come to stay. I am going back home. I got my visa on the promise that I wouldn’t stay in America illegally. So, I am not going to.”

Looks of incredulity. Where is this guy from? I mean which planet? Promise? What is he talking about anyway? Let me ask.

“What promise?”

“I promised the Consul General in Guyana that I wouldn’t overstay my visa and wouldn’t remain in the US illegally.”

“Yeah! Tell me about it! We all did that. So, what happened? Everyone knows, we are not doing anything illegal. We are just hustling for a living. So, can you. Who cares?”

“Staying without a visa is illegal. Who cares? I care.”

“You are just plain lazy. You don’t want to work hard. Do you have a job in India? What will you do there? You will starve. Look at so-and-so, see how he made a success. Started pumping gas. Now he owns the gas station. So can you if you only work hard.”

“In India I will have to work harder. It is not about hard work. It is about keeping my word. I promised Dennis Goodman that I would not stay back. (I tell the whole story again). He told the consular officer to give me a visa on his guarantee. How can I go back on my word?”

“Dennis Goodman is not watching you. He doesn’t even know.”

“Yes, you are right. He is not watching me. Dennis Goodman doesn’t know. But I do.”

End of conversation. Nobody is convinced. Nobody shows me any respect for standing by my principles. But it doesn’t matter to me, because I couldn’t have done anything else. I don’t budge, because my word is my bond. And I gave my word. 

When I reached England, enroute to India, the first thing I did was to buy a postcard of Big Ben, stuck some nice British stamps on it and mailed it to Goodman saying, “This is proof that I have left the US as I had promised.” I never heard from him and don’t even know if he got the card. Postal services to Guyana were rather shaky at the time, but if he is still around and reads this, I want him to know that I remember his kindness and appreciated his belief in me. And I want him to know that I kept my word and did what I’d said I would. Maybe he can show this to the lady who’d said to him, “It’s your neck.” His neck was safe.

The world is round and what goes around, comes around. Today almost forty years later, I have been lecturing American diplomats at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) and have lived and worked in America and traveled there many times. Every time I do, I think of Dennis. Very interestingly also, a dear friend, who heard this story, found Dennis on the net. I am hoping it is him and that I will be able to contact him, so that the story can have a proper end. Shows how the world is both a small and a big place.

What makes a Winner?

Before I begin on the three fundamental principles that make winners, let me state one thing: In life, only winners are rewarded. So the first requirement of winning is to be passionate about winning. To realize that a real win is one that is gained fairly, with integrity and without harming anyone. Only that is a win.

There are three fundamental drivers of all winners:

  1. Drive for excellence
  2. Compassion
  3. Desire to leave a legacy

Drive for excellence emerges from the winner’s self-concept. A winner defines himself by his output. Her contribution is her signature. Winners are contribution oriented, not entitlement oriented. They constantly seek to give and to give more and better each time. Naturally this gives them profit, fame, honor and popularity but that is not why they do it. They do it because of who they are. Not because of what others say about them. I recall a carpenter who was making a table for me and asked for 7 grades of sandpaper. When I complained about the time it would take, he said to me, ‘It is your choice. This is how I work. I want whoever sees your table to ask you, ‘Wow! Who made this?’ Not, ‘Who the hell made this?’ He was working for his own satisfaction. That this would result in a satisfied customer was incidental. He would have worked that way even if he had no customer to sell to. The table he made for me was of teak wood, polished to a mirror finish. A delight to see.

Compassion comes from a sense of connectedness that winners have. They realize that they are not alone in the world and that they became what they became because of what others did for them, without thinking of a return. Compassion is not merely to be concerned about the difficulties of others but to be concerned enough to put our money and effort where our mouth is. Compassion is what defines us as human beings. Animals don’t have compassion. A wildebeest herd stands and watches one of its members being eaten by lions and do nothing to help the one that was taken. It is peculiarly and essentially human to be concerned for the welfare of others. Winners are concerned and they act. Today our major problems that threaten the world are because of a lack of concern, a lack of compassion for others. We are singularly focused on growth at any cost. Growth for the sake of growth is the philosophy of the cancer cell. Predatory growth results in environmental destruction, impoverishment of people for the enrichment of a few and increase in unrest and insecurity.

Legacy: Finally winners who have lived all their lives trying to create an impact on their environment don’t want to disappear beneath the waves without a trace. They like to leave a legacy of goodness that continues after they are gone. So they build organizations, systems and processes so that their work will continue. They spend time, energy and resources to train others, to teach them what they know, to share their life’s hard earned experience so that others don’t have to go through the same hardships to learn. Winners leave their mark on the hearts and in the lives of all those they touch. They don’t do this to be remembered but they are remembered because of what they did. For the world remembers us not for what we had but for what we did and how that helped them. The legacy of the winner is in the smiles of those who they helped.

We are living beings, not binary code

We are living beings, not binary code

In today’s world, one of the things that I am most conscious about is the need to connect with the land. In my case, that means forests. Urban living has ripped out the connection we all had with the earth and left us with a lifestyle which is deceptive and artificial. Millennials are addicted to tech gadgets, not to the sound of birdsong early in the morning. Many have never smelled the first rain on parched earth, a perfume which the Attars (perfume makers) of old captured in an Atar (perfume) called Atar-e-Gil or Mitti Atar. Many don’t know the feel of good loamy soil in their hands or the pleasure of planting a tree and then watching it take root, grow and flower, over the weeks. For many eggs come from the grocery store, not from chickens with a personality and clear likes and dislikes of places and people, which they don’t hesitate to make known. I can go on but this will suffice. I believe it is critically important for us to change that and get people to smell the earth, listen to the forest and feel a sense of companionship with those who inhabit the earth with us. As we are headed into global warming and environmental destruction, I can’t help but feel that this is because most of us don’t even know what we are losing or what an unspoiled environment looks and feels like. What we don’t understand, we fear and what we fear, we destroy.

All through my childhood and youth, 1960’s & 70’s, I spent as much time in the forests as I could which enabled me to indulge my deep and abiding interest in wildlife and ecology. I had three of the best teachers that one could hope for to learn jungle craft from. People who loved the forests, had a wealth of knowledge about them and had the patience and affection to convey it to a young boy. They were Capt. Nadir Tyabji, Nawab Nazir Yar Jung and my dear Uncle Rama (Venkat Rama Reddy). All were more than twenty years my senior but that has always been my situation, friends who are older and wiser from whom I learn all the time. I owe them a debt of gratitude and remember them with boundless respect and love. They invested countless hours in me for no material return and taught me lessons which fall into place to this day, fifty years later. It is a very rare privilege to have mentors like them and I am forever grateful.

From Nadir uncle I learnt to observe quietly without disturbing what I was looking at. I learnt from him the amazing variety of living beings that live in harmony with one another in a small little pond. I learnt a lot about birds, their nesting habits, their camouflage techniques and that the term, ‘free as a bird’ is a figment of the imagination. Birds are often so tied down to their environment, often a single species of tree, that if that tree dies, so does the bird. Out of this, I learnt to appreciate not one or two selected creatures but the whole spectrum of trees, insects, birds, reptiles and mammals that make up our environment. This was at a time when to get to the nearest pond with some undisturbed rocks and bush around it, took all of ten minutes walking.

I was able to appreciate the importance of not upsetting this balance and what happens when in our endless greed we thoughtlessly destroy our environment. I saw that pond, the rocks and scrub forest around it, listened to the cooing of doves in the trees, saw the jacana with her chicks skipping on the lily pads. I saw the mongoose come out of her den in the rocks and look at me, unafraid because she had seen me so often and knew that I posed no threat to her babies. I heard the cawing of crows and the endless chatter of sparrows. I saw the hoopoe swoop down from the sky onto a patch of grass and dig for worms with his sharp beak, raising his crown from time to time, to remind the world of who he is. Some years later when I returned to Hyderabad, I tried to visit that pond. I say tried to visit because to be able to visit, the object of your visit needs to be there. It wasn’t. The rocks had been blasted to make concrete. The pond had been filled in, the trees cut, the grass ground underfoot into dust. The mongoose, the jacana, the doves and hoopoe, even the crows and sparrows, all gone, never to return. What I saw was a tar road, a concrete high-rise building with climate control (meaning, no windows) and the whir of traffic. Was that the worst of it or was it that there was nobody to mourn their passing?

From Nawab Nazir Yar Jung (we called him Nawabsab) I learnt the basics of self defense, shooting, training dogs and horses and jungle craft. He taught me how to train dogs for tracking, retrieving and guarding. I was learning from a man who had an international standing in his art and I was very conscious of it. What I was also learning in the process of training dogs and horses, which I was not conscious of then, was about myself, my strengths, weaknesses, fears, hopes and emotions. Dogs react to facial expressions and unconscious movements and mannerisms and their performance depends on the clarity with which a command is given. To the man, it may appear that the command is the word alone. But to the dog it is a combination of sound, expression and the slightest movement all together as one. So, if you are not conscious of yourself, then your dog will always be confused because your command comes across to him differently each time. Today, when I teach presentation skills or facilitate meetings I recall these lessons in self-awareness and the power of synchronizing yourself in thought, word and action. Dogs taught me how to deal with people.

Uncle Rama taught me more than I can possibly list here. He taught me the meaning of responsibility and accountability. He taught me to take care of myself in a hostile environment. He taught me to be at peace with the forest, to connect with the stars and to respect the animals we occasionally shot for the table. Hunting was not a sport. It was something you did only for necessity and with a sense of deep thankfulness for the fact that the animal gave its life for you. Hunting was a contest between man with his weak senses and a good rifle and the animal with his speed of response, his highly tuned senses, his intuition and his enormous knowledge of his environment. It was not only an equal contest but was usually in favor of the animal. That is when you played fair. This means that you tracked the animal on foot, in daylight. Not when you used a high-powered searchlight to blind it in the night and then did target practice. That I was taught, is the most despicable, dishonorable and shameless thing that you could do. And so, I never did it.

All these were ostensibly lessons in anything but work. But in reality, they were lessons in character building, life skills, influencing, social dynamics, self-awareness and understanding which have stood me in very good stead all through my life and which are the backbone of my profession of leadership training.

I became very skilled in jungle craft and could stalk game in silence over long distances. I could camouflage myself and stay hidden and unobserved and walk a trail and tell the signs of creatures that had walked that path ahead of me. The more I knew about an animal the more likely I was to be able to track it down and shoot it. So, I studied, talked to people who were knowledgeable, and observed. My observation became very good and so did my ability to listen to and analyze sounds. In the Indian forests, home to large and potentially dangerous mammals, this knowledge can often mean the difference between life and death. As I learned more about forests, I enjoyed my time in the forests even more and looked forward to the holidays when I would get on a bus and travel to Nirmal, change buses for Khanapur and Pembi and then walk the last four kilometers to Sethpalli.


Uncle Rama was like a father to me and he would give me a royal welcome. He used to call me Nawab and treated me like a king. That I was a fifteen-year-old schoolboy meant nothing to him. To him I was his friend, who he treated as an equal. As soon as I arrived, covered in dust, I would go off to the well at the edge of the Tamarind trees, which shaded the house on the riverbank. There I would stand in my underwear and one of the farm workers (usually Shivaiyya, my Gond tracker friend) would draw water in a bucket from the well and pour it over my head. Lots of soap, more water flooded over my head, and I would be clean as two whistles. Dressed in a lungi and banyan, I would sit on the charpoy opposite Uncle Rama under one of the Tamarind trees and he would tell me all that had happened since my last visit. While this was going on, his cook would bring a huge bowl of fried Chital meat and I would eat and listen to him. I had a vast capacity for eating meat and tender Chital was my absolute favorite. Uncle Rama knew that I was Muslim and would not eat anything not slaughtered in the Islamic way. So, he used to take one of his Muslim workers, Noorullah, with him when he went hunting. Once the animal was down, Noorullah would go and slaughter it by cutting the throat and saying: Bismillahi Allahu Akbar. Such was the consideration we were taught to observe for one another.

I loved jungles. I loved hunting and I loved Uncle Rama above all else. So, every holiday I would go off to Sethpalli. Sometimes Uncle Rama would be in town (Hyderabad) at the time my holidays were about to begin. He would call and say, “Kya Nawab, chalna hai?” And off we went. He had a BSA motorcycle (350 cc). He would ride with a .12 bore shotgun slung across his chest and a bandolier of cartridges and I would ride behind him with a .22 bore rifle slung across my back.

How can I describe the excitement as I rode behind Uncle Rama with the wind in my face? Those were the days before helmets were invented; before there were any Naxalites in those forests and before it became illegal to hunt. So off we would go from Hyderabad to Sethpalli, via Nirmal and Khanapur. All names that conjure up wonderful memories of a childhood that today no child can even dream of. This is the price we have paid for what we like to call ‘development’.

As we went along, Uncle Rama would stop by a road side water tank. These tanks were an integral part of the irrigation network of Telangana, which does not see too much rain. Every village had its tank. When maintained, they harvested rain water, enhanced the water table in the village and provided water to irrigate the fields so that in most years people were able to harvest two crops. The tanks had fish and attracted water birds, both of which added to the villager’s diet. And they were very beautiful. Today they have been allowed to silt up. The dams are ruined. The entire irrigation system has been allowed to collapse with nothing else to replace it. Some of them have been encroached upon and people have built houses and shops on the tank bed, which is illegal of course. Alas, when the grease hits the palm in India, anything is possible. The result is drought, uncultivated lands and in years when the monsoon fails, starvation, and farmer suicides.

Uncle Rama would park his motorcycle by the roadside and we would get off, un-sling the guns and sneak up the embankment of the nearby water tank. There, sure enough, we would find, Brahminy, Pollard, Comb (Nakta) ducks, or Teals. All floating in the reeds and feeding in the shallows. Uncle Rama was a master tracker and I learnt from him. We would crawl along the bank, just below the top, careful not to show a silhouette and when we were in range, I would fire first and he would take the flying shots as the ducks rose in flight. Usually, we would get our dinner before we reached home. We would arrive at the farm with the motorcycle festooned with ducks on either side.

The villagers also hunt ducks. The difference is they do it without firearms. In this part of the world, they don’t even have any bows and arrows, catapults, or any other throwing weapons. What they do is to take a round pot with a mouth big enough for the head of the hunter to go through and make two holes in it to see through. They then seal the holes and the mouth of the pot and float it among the reeds where ducks take shelter in the night. After a couple of days, the ducks get used to seeing the pot in their midst. Then on a moonless night, the hunter creeps up quietly, enters the water and inserts his head into the pot, making sure that his body is completely submerged. He looks through the holes in the pot and breathes the air trapped in the pot. To the ducks, it is still the same pot floating among the reeds. Then the hunter very quietly and gently approaches a duck and grabs its legs under the water, yanking it down below the surface. Done expertly, the duck simply disappears without trace. The man transfers the duck to his other hand and then approaches the next duck to yank it to its watery end. The only thing limiting him is the number of duck legs he can hold in one hand. On a good day, getting five or six ducks is not difficult. Some hunters wear a belt to which they attach all underwater ducks which considerably increases their game bag. These ducks were a valuable addition of protein in their diet as well as a means of earning some money. Human ingenuity is truly the best resource we have.

Khanapur was the first watering hole. The first serious one that is. We would stop for tea at one of the many road-side Dhabas and Uncle Rama would have fun talking to the owner in fluent Telugu only to see the look of total surprise on his face. Uncle Rama, due to his English mother, was himself white with blond hair. So, people naturally took him to be British. And when he spoke colloquial Telugu and Urdu fluently, they were shocked.

In Khanapur we would stop at his house which he never actually finished building. He’d started it in the hope that his family would live there with him. But his wife, a wonderful, cultured lady did not fancy the village life, so he never finished the house. It was still livable though and we would stop there for lunch. After lunch he would pull out a big bottle with a viscous liquid that looked like old engine oil. What it contained was the most delicious honey that I have ever eaten. Fifty years later that statement still holds true. It was so black and viscous because it was so old and high in sugar content that it was practically solid. This honey with butter was the dessert…blissssssssssssssssssss, which was followed by two hours of sound sleep. The idea was to wait for the heat of the afternoon to lessen before travelling. In summer the temperatures there would be in the high forties (north of 115 F), even though we were in the middle of the forest. To travel in that heat (especially on a motorcycle) was a good way to get sunstroke. All life comes to a standstill at midday and then people start to move again once the sun is on its way to rising in America.

In the evening, after a cup of tea we would leave for Sethpalli, our final destination, sometimes in the Jeep that Uncle Rama used to cache in Khanapur, or on the motorbike. This drive was the most exciting part of the whole trip as the road went through thick forests. Much of it teak plantations. Some original forest. A lot of bamboo thickets and Ber bushes; favorite haunts of wildlife ranging from Jungle Fowl who eat the berries and seed, to Gaur which graze on tender bamboo shoots to tigers who like to lie up in the shade of the bamboo which is not deciduous and remains green in the summer. A good place to look for tigers is bamboo bordering any small creek or even a dry stream bed (Nalla). Tigers love to lie in the relatively cool sand or in the water all through the heat of the day, shaded from the sun and prying eyes by the thick bamboo fronds.

The semi-deciduous forests of the Satpura Range are relatively open without much undergrowth. One of the reasons for this is also the annual burning that happens even though it is illegal. Shepherds and others set fire to the undergrowth and this burns off all the dry leaves on the forest floor causing minor damage to the large trees. That leaves the place open for the growth of new grass and shrubs. Deer and Gaur love this new growth as also the ash from the burnt logs which they come to eat. The ash is also excellent manure for the new growth and it grows lush and thick. As we drove through the evening, rapidly turning to night, we would often see herds of Chital, Nilgai, the occasional Sambar (they usually start moving much later after moonset) and Gaur lying or feeding in the open forest glades. Most were so used to the sound of traffic that as long as the vehicle was moving, they would simply look up to see what it was and then continue on with whatever they were doing. But if the vehicle stopped, they would immediately be alarmed and start to move away.

Uncle Rama used these trips to teach me from his vast knowledge of jungle lore. I learnt to distinguish between a male and female animal. To recognize one that was pregnant or nursing. To recognize their different moods and what the calls meant. Some raised in alarm, the belling of a Sambar; the barking of the Cheetal, hooting of the Langur sentinel who sees the danger before anyone else and on whose vigilance, they all depend. I learnt the meaning of a deer staring in concentration at one thicket and then stamping his fore hoof a couple of times before barking alarm. By listening to the belling of a Sambar in the night, I learnt to tell which direction he was looking in and how far he was from me. In forests that had many tigers and leopards, this was a very useful skill indeed.

So many things to learn. I learnt. I learnt. I learnt. And I loved every minute of it.

The big challenge we have today is to teach our children these lessons and help them to connect to the earth, to its inhabitants and to each other. We are living beings, not binary code. The earth is not at our mercy but waits and watches to see what we do. Then it will do what it has done in the past, to protect what is beneficial and to heal itself by ridding itself of that which is harmful. Our call to define ourselves.
Forget about money

Forget about money

Money measures nothing except greed. 
When money becomes the objective, misery is the return. 
Service is the goal, the result of which is prosperity.

Money is an effect, a result. What do I mean? Well, you see, we live in a world of cause and effect. The fundamental rule here is, ‘If you want an effect, work on the cause.’ For example, peace is an effect; it is the result of justice. So if you want peace, then seek to ensure justice for all. If injustice prevails, peace can never come about because people will fight against injustice as indeed they should and peace will be disturbed.

Similarly, money is the result of intelligent effort. The effort can be dishonorable or honorable. Both kinds yield money. One yields money coupled with anxiety, fear, disgrace, hatred, shame, and the ill will of people. The other kind yields money with respect, honor, goodwill, love, gratitude and the prayers of people. Your call which kind you want. Remember, the second kind is actually easier. And you will sleep better too.


Remember also that money is a measure of nothing except greed. It is what you do with money which counts, not how much you have. So seek to do something with money that has a lasting positive effect. That is what gives meaning to money and makes it a source of benefit to you and others and gives you an opportunity to leave behind a legacy of honor.

As the lyrics of the famous song by Abba go:

Money, money, money
Must be funny
In the rich man’s world
Money, money, money
Always sunny
In the rich man’s world
Aha-ahaaa
All the things I could do
If I had a little money
It’s a rich man’s world

The biggest killer globally today is not war but poverty. And that is not the result of lack of resources but lack of compassion and concern. The fact that we have created a world in which 62 of the richest people own more than 50% of the global population, is not simply astonishing and shameful but very encouraging. Because what we created, we can change. That we must change it, is not something that needs emphasis. A world (or country) with a huge income and wealth disparity is less prosperous, less peaceful and less happy than a country where the income/wealth disparity is not so marked. It is in the interest of everyone, including the wealthy, that wealth is shared. That increases disposable income and buying power which translates into a stronger economy and more prosperity. Strangely the powers that be, who are supposed to be intelligent, don’t seem to understand this and insist on cornering resources at the cost of the vast majority. 

Advice to a young friend going to university

Five things to keep in mind:

1.      Always be thankful. It is true that we succeed by our own efforts but it is good to remember that some of them were made standing on someone else’s shoulders.  And they helped us when they didn’t need us and without expectation of reward. Don’t forget them because without them you would still be crawling. The biggest fallacy is the so-called ‘self-made man or woman.’ There’s no such thing. We are all the products of the Grace of God, of our time, environment, nation, family, friends – of all those who stopped by to lend a hand. To every one of them we owe a debt which must be repaid. So always be thankful and express thanks. People are not mind readers and even mind readers like to hear it from you. So tell them. Thankfulness increases blessings, opens new doors, inspires people to do things for you and increases your circle of influence. Thankfulness also fills your own heart with joy. Try it and see.

2.     Never compromise your legacy. Never lose sight of your purpose. Ask, ‘Why am I here?’ Write it down and stick it on your wall. Look at it every morning and re-dedicate yourself to that. Stick to that. There will be times when all sorts of other things will seek priority. Different issues will demand importance. Friends will pull in various directions. At such times look at your purpose and know that everything else must be subordinated to that if you are serious about success. Ask, ‘What do I want to be remembered for?’ Focus is the art of ignoring.

3.     Everyone has friends. The worst of them and the best of them, all have friends. Ask Mother Teresa and ask any drug dealer or pickpocket. They all have friends. The key is to have the right kind of friends. Who is the right friend? Someone you can look up to. Someone you can learn from. Someone who challenges you to be your best. Someone who tells you what you need to hear, not only what you want to hear. So it is not how many friends you have but who those friends are, which is important. Also ask, ‘What kind of friend am I to my friends?’ Do you measure up to the same criteria? Being a leader means to take hard decisions and not follow the herd. Sheep have lots of company all the way to the abattoir.

4.     No one walks alone: Every one of us is a reflection of his family, community, nation and humanity. We are never alone. Everything we choose to do or choose not to do, reflects brand value and character. Character is the tree and fame is its shadow. But of the two only the tree is real. So judge every action not only by whether it pleases you but by how it will reflect on your parents, family and nation. And most importantly how it reflects on humanity. We are human because of our values alone. That is what distinguishes us from animals. So focus on values. Compassion supercedes them all. Do to others better than what you would have them do to you. That is the Platinum Rule. A picture is worth a thousand words. An action is worth a million.

5.     Finally remember that popularity doesn’t matter: So never buckle under the pressure of popularity. It doesn’t matter at all. Dr. Rene Favaloro invented the technique and performed the first bypass surgery in 1967. Michael Jackson began his solo career in 1971 (he made his debut in 1964). Who was more popular? Whose contribution has more value? So think contribution, not popularity. In our world today, if you stand up against injustice, oppression, cruelty and discrimination, you will be very unpopular. But the world owes a debt of gratitude to those who do. Otherwise oppressors would rule unchallenged. Peace as defined by oppressors has always been, ‘Absence of resistance to my oppression.’ All those who resisted were given the honorifics of ‘insurgent, terrorist, traitor etc.’ But history is witness that it is thanks to those who disturbed that peace that we abolished slavery, have human dignity and continue to fight for freedom. So it is not whether you won or lost which matters. What matters is which side you fought on. Pick your side for you will be known by it. That is your signature.

I wish you every great dream in life and the courage to make it come true.