I started my corporate career in Guyana with the Guyana
Mining Enterprise in Kwakwani, on the Rio Berbice. Kwakwani was a small mining
town, hanging on the bank of the Berbice River trying not to get pushed into its
deep and dark waters by an aggressively advancing forest. Living in the middle
of the Amazonian rain forest with no family and only a Scarlet Macaw and sundry
chickens, turkeys and a series of wild animals as pets may not be the normal
youngster’s dream job, but it was mine. I lived on Staff Hill, in a small
bungalow with three bedrooms, a living/dining room and kitchen and a veranda on
two sides. Facing the bungalow was an orange orchard that ended in the brooding
mass of the wall of the rain forest. Behind and surrounding the bungalow was a large
open field ending in the wall of the rain forest once again. Living in the
middle of the rain forest meant just that; you had the forest surrounding you.
I would sit on my veranda in the evenings after the sun had gone down and I had had my dinner. In the days and places without TV or mobile phones, you had time to relax, watch the world go by and simply be in sync with your surroundings. The forest is not a silent place. Forests breathe and speak and are visibly and audibly alive. Even if you don’t know their language – and it differs from place to place – you can still hear them. I could hear Macaws talking to each other as they headed home. They pair for life and have great conversations. Lesson: conversation is essential to a good marriage. Then there are the smells. The smell of the first rain after the dry season. The smell of the markings on trees of territorial creatures which are meant to warn away potential threats. The smell of vegetation, growing or decomposing. When you sit quietly in a forest and let it talk to you, it does. Gently and gradually. Naturally, it takes a little while because first our ears must stop buzzing with the residue of our own noisy, raucous sounds of so-called civilization. They try to drown out everything that the forest is trying to tell you. But if you are patient and give it some time, then gradually the buzzing fades away and you start to hear the breeze rustling in the leaves. You hear water dropping from the top levels onto the canopy below. You hear the occasional ripe fruit or dry branch fall to the floor, to become either food or manure. You learn to tell the difference between a sound made by a living creature – which may be potentially dangerous or useful – and the sound of something that is not a living creature. The forest speaks to you in the voices of the Howler Monkeys announcing that the dawn has broken and, in the evening, that the night has fallen, and they are signing off for the day. Toucans, Parakeets and Macaws talking to each other as they fly, feed and roost. It speaks to you in the rustle of the oncoming deluge which you can hear advancing towards you, not threatening but announcing its progress so that you can take shelter. The wind rustling the treetops sometimes sounds like the waves of the ocean. You will hear all this, and more will happen if you give it some time, are observant, and are willing to learn. I was thrilled to be there. There was nowhere else that I would rather be.
My first boss, Mr. James Nicholas Adams (Nick
Adams) was the Administrative Manager of Kwakwani and I was his Assistant
Manager. Nick was my manager but even more he was my mentor and guide. Although
he was technically in charge of the whole operation, he let me run it the way I
wanted and that was a tremendous learning opportunity for me. Nick had a unique
way of teaching by delegating responsibility and then periodically calling me
to do a participative analysis of my own performance. He would then reinforce
the strengths and achievements and encourage me to draw lessons from my
mistakes. I remember my first ever appraisal in 1980. Nick gave me the form and
told me to fill it in myself. I was shocked because I thought appraising was
something that the boss did of your work. But Nick said, ‘You know what you did
better than I do. So, write it up.’ I returned with what I thought were my
achievements and then Nick and I had a long chat about them. Thanks to my Indian
cultural upbringing, Nick ended up adding several things that I had left out
feeling that they didn’t really count. I still have that form with Nick’s
signature on it, decades later.
In Kwakwani, I was the youngest member of the Management Team, sometimes by decades. As the Assistant Administrative Manager, it was part of my responsibility to look after the logistics in the entire mining town. There were department heads over whom I had no formal authority, but whose cooperation I needed to get anything done. Some were twice my age and Guyanese and members of the PNC (People’s National Congress – the ruling party in Guyana), while I was a young foreigner. I learnt, very practically, that the best way to make progress was to develop a relationship based on sincerity as that would be the only thing that you could count on, especially in hard times. I remember how Nick Adams used to put it. He’d say, “A relationship is like a bank account. You only have in it, what you put in. And when you need to draw on it, you only have as much as you put in.” That is one of the lessons I learnt in my life and which has stayed with me all these years. That is one of the many lessons that I owe to Nick. Another was in hospitality and consideration. The first time it happened I was astonished. Then it became a regular feature. One weekend Nick called me and asked me to go over to his place. When I walked over, I saw that he had a pen full of live chickens (about 10-12 in all) and a knife. He said to me, “Ya-waar, can you please slaughter these in your way? I will put them in the freezer so that we are sure we give you these when you come over to our place to eat.” Nick and his lovely wife Kathleen knew that I was Muslim and would eat only meat that was slaughtered according to the rules of Halal. So, they made sure that not only was what they gave me Halal but that I would have total confidence in that. What better way than to let me do it myself?
One of Nick’s biggest strengths was his communication; both its clarity and wisdom. I recall an amusing but very instructive incident which illustrates the challenges we faced and how Nick dealt with them. Guyana had recently become independent and was ruled by the PNC (People’s National Congress) which was socialist/communist. The President of Guyana was the very powerful and iconic, Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham (1923 – 1985). Communism/socialism was the prevalent ideology. We addressed each other as ‘Comrade’. I was Comrade (written Cde.) Baig. Bauxite mining was the major economic activity in Guyana and just before I landed there in 1979, the government had nationalized the bauxite mining and calcining operation. One inevitable and tragic result was that people were appointed and promoted more for ideological loyalty than for professional competence. Another result was that the Guyana Mine Workers Union became very strong. Guymine (used to be called Guybau) had 5000 workers and all were members of the GMWU. The Union was run by its General Secretary, Stephen Louis, a huge big man with a voice to match.
One effect of the nationalization and heightened union activity was frequent work stoppages on all kinds of frivolous matters. Then we would meet to discuss Terms of Resumption and arrive at a settlement. The meetings were contests of will, to see who would break down first. The meetings were very important because if we couldn’t arrive at a settlement the issue would go to Arbitration before the Minister of Mines whose other role was as the President of the Union. The typical Terms of Resumption meeting would go straight through for anything ranging from 24 – 72 hours, with short breaks of usually an hour or two to stretch our legs and eat something. Naturally patience was tough to maintain, and tempers would get frayed. This incident relates to one such meeting.
I can’t recall what the issue was, for which the Union had called for a Tools Down. We started the meeting at 8.00 pm and it continued through the night into the next morning. We took a break of about 2 hours to take a shower and have breakfast. Then back in the meeting until 8.00 pm that night. Then a break for dinner and back again through the night. Stephen Louis was holding forth at full strength, his voice resonating and bouncing off the ceiling and walls; my first experience of surround sound. The only option we had was to listen. Our team had Nick as its head and me and another young man from IR (Industrial Relations), who we shall call Jacob (not his real name). Late that night, well past midnight, Jacob’s patience snapped. Stephen Louis had been going on and on about the ideological differences between socialist and capitalist ideologies and why the socialist ideology to which the PNC and the GMWU were committed was superior. Jacob said, ‘Man! Stephen, talk sense man.’ It was as if he had shot Stephen in the head. Stephen stopped in mid-sentence. Turned slowly to face Jacob and said, ‘Boy! (pronounced Bye) Jaykie, waya seh! Talk sense. Like me na takin sense? Ya tink a-we takin nansense? All dis time we bina trying to come to a settlemen and dis Bye seh we bina talkin nansense? Eh!’
The situation was as close to sitting on a powder keg with the fuse burning as I care to remember. In another two seconds, the Union would have walked out and hours and hours of work would have gone down the drain. We would have had to begin again with the additional problem of dealing with bruised egos as a result of good old Jaykie’s comment. That’s when I saw how quick thinking and experience makes a difference. Nick called out, ‘Hol-an, Hol-an man Stephen. De Bye na seh, Leh we talk sense. He seh, Leh we talk dallar and cents. Leh we talk moe-ney! Leh we do dat man. Nof-of dis ideology thing. Leh we decide and go to bed.’
swear, I saw relief on Stephen Loius’s face. He say, ‘Ah! Ya, leh we do da.’ And
we did. We finished as the day was breaking and as we left the room, Stephen
came up behind Jacob, affectionately grabbed him by the back of his neck and said,
‘De man Nick don save yar aas. You know waya seh, eh! And I know wa I hear! But
Nick don save a-we. If not, dis meeting was gonna go on for noder two days.
Watch ya tongue Bye. It can geh you into trouble. And you won’ have Nick to
bail you out next time.’ That is where I learnt human relations. In a very tough
environment but where even our antagonists took time out to unofficially mentor
My last story about Nick. I heard this story from his son Owen Shaka Abubakr Adams. When Nick was a young man, and lived in Linden, Demarara, he received a summons from a court in Corentynwhich is at the northern border of Guyana, with Suriname; a distance of about 400 kilometers. To go there in those days (1950’s?) must have been an expedition. Nick had no idea why he had been summoned. But he went. When he arrived at the court, his name was called, and the judge asked him to come forward. As Nick was walking down the aisle, he heard a woman’s voice, ‘He is not the man.’ Nick turned to see a young woman with a baby.
The judge told the lady, ‘Look carefully at him. This is Nick Adams. Is he the man?’ The lady said, ‘He is not the man. This is someone else.’
When Nick asked, the judge said to him, ‘A man by
your name, got this lady pregnant and now that she has a baby, he has
disappeared. Anyway, this is not your problem, so you can go home.’
Nick said to the judge, ‘Your Honor, I would like to request you to please arrange for the maintenance of this child to be deducted from my salary.’
The judge was astonished. ‘Do you know this lady?’
Nick said, ‘No, Your Honor, I don’t. I am seeing her for the first time today.’ ‘Then why are you offering to pay for the maintenance of the child?’ asked the judge. ‘It is not your responsibility. This matter doesn’t concern you.’
Nick replied, ‘But the child needs to eat, Your Honor. Someone must pay for that. I am willing to do that.’
For the next 18 years, Nick Adams paid maintenance
for a child that was not his own. He saw the mother, that one time in court and
never saw the mother or child again. But month after month, year after year for
18 years, Nick Adams paid for a child because he had compassion in his heart.
Rabb was no less compassionate. So many decades later, maybe even 60 years
later, Nick Adams who was by then suffering from cancer, one week before his
death, accepted Islam along with his wife and sister in law.
The happiest ending; or I should say, the happiest latest story, to my Guyana times was when I got the news in 2011 that Nick Adams and his wife Kathleen had accepted Islam. Nick was terminally ill with cancer at the time and died a couple of weeks later. I hope one day to meet my friend once again in Jannah. He died sinless and pure and I ask Allahﷻ for His Mercy and Grace for my dear friend to whom I owe so much.
It was 1968 and I was 13 years old, in Grade (we called it Class) 8 in the Hyderabad Public School. If you left the school from its main gate and walked over the bridge across the stream which flowed full and freely in those days (not the trickle of sewage and toxic chemicals today) and on which we used to sometimes canoe, you came to the Begumpet Railway Station. This was at the bottom of the garden of a very graceful British Country Mansion, except that it was in Begumpet and not in England. Be that as it may, it would have been totally at home in the Shires of England. It was called Vilayat Manzil. It had a huge wooden gate about 8 feet tall and wide enough to take a Four-in-hand or perhaps an elephant or two. Not surprising as this was the house of Nawab Wali ud Dowla, the Prime Minister of Hyderabad State. The son of the man who built Falaknuma Palace, Nawab Vicar ul Mulk, who was also a Prime Minister of Hyderabad State in his time. That is where Nawab Nazir Yar Jung Bahadur , son of Nawab Wali ud Dowla, lived . By the time I met him, his father had passed away (he died in Madina in 1935) but his mother (Ameerunnisa Begum) and younger brother, Nawab Bashir Yar Jung lived in Vilayat Manzil. His older brother, Nawab Habib Jung, also a good friend, lived nearby in his own house, built in another part of the garden that surrounded Vilayat Manzil. A beautiful Spanish style Hacienda with an open central courtyard. Nawab Habib Jung Bahadur wrote the very first reference letter for me when I had applied to Harrisons & Crossfield Limited (Harrisons Malayalam) in 1979. I recall two things in it. He wrote, “He is excellent in saddle seat equitation and always shows respect where respect is due.” Habib Jung had horses and I used to ride them with his son Mohammed and he fine-tuned both our riding style.
you came through the gate, you were on a circular driveway which curved past
two large water tanks with marble fountains with carved lions. Even then water
was getting scarce and so I never saw those fountains functioning, but the sculptures
were striking. This is where I met Nawab Nazir Yar Jung first. I had heard of
him as a dog breeder, trainer and judge. He was a prominent member of the
Kennel Club of India (KCI) and a highly respected judge in dogs shows all over
the world. I had the privilege of accompanying him to several dog shows and can
still see him racing around the ring with his German Shepherds or in the field
trails of his Labradors. I was very keen on owning one of the dogs from his kennel,
the famous Paigah Kennels but to my great surprise and disappointment the price
was Rs. 500 for a puppy. In 1968 that was more money that I could have dreamt
of. So, I never bought a puppy. Nawab Saab however, took a liking to me and allowed
me to spend time with him in caring for his dogs. This rather unlikely
friendship grew, and in time he treated me like his own son. At that time, he
used to have more than one hundred dogs in his kennels. It was a sight to see. I
didn’t get a puppy at that time (later I got several) but I got the friendship
of Nawab Saab, which was a priceless gift. He became my mentor, teacher and
keenness for tea planting also came from listening to stories of plantations –
the Anamallais in particular from Nawab Nazir Yar Jung. Nawab Saab had been a planter
with Brooke Bond Tea Company (Tea Estates India) and was on Monica Estate (SenguthaparaiDivision).
very dear friend and mentor, Mr. K. Ahmedullah wrote this piece about Nawab Nazir
Yar Jung which gives an insight into his planting life, which he never mentioned
in the more than 50 years of our friendship. He talked about his hunting in
Grass Hills and Highwavys, the exploits of his dogs and about his tracker
friend called Kali, who he mentioned with great affection. But he never mentioned
anything about his planting career. Being a planter myself, I can appreciate what
Mr. Ahmedullah writes. Here it is:
NYJ was an authority on dog breeding,
training, and was often a judge of international dog shows. It is a pity that
this was not mentioned in the item that carried the news of his passing away.
The news only harped on his Paigah connection, Jung title and so on. NYJ was
on Monica Estate, Anamallais, reporting to Raghava Menon, just before he quit
planting. As you know, Monica was a prestige posting, being the flag ship
Estate of M/s Tea Estates of India, of Brooke Bond.
It so happened that I was moved to Monica as assistant manager, immediately after NYJ resigned. Soon thereafter Raghava Menon was promoted as Group Manager in addition to his holding charge of Monica. He continued to reside in Monica Estate. I was asked to look after the operations of the entire estate to allow Raghava Menon to look after his additional duty, but I remained an assistant manager! That is when I took charge of Senguthaparai, which was looked after by NYJ.
And that is when I discovered that NYJ had planted the most advanced 100 hectares of coffee selections from Kenya. Not only that but he had created a most advanced system of curing and pulping the coffee harvest, using gravity as the driving force, from a stream which flowed on Senguthaparai. That coffee commanded a premium at the Auctions.
I thought I should put this on record as not many are aware of the talents this man had. NYJ was a decent, pious man, who never harmed anyone. IN FACT HIS GENEROSITY IS A LEGEND ON THE PLANTATIONS WHERE HE WORKED. He died with the KALEMA on his lips, which is the best possible reward The Almighty bestows on those who walk in HIS WAY .
NYJ never entered the Anamallais
Club! Siasp Kothavala, Doon School contact, was his close friend and just a few
others, whom he entertained lavishly. He had about 20 dogs and a donkey,
which was used to carry meat daily from Valparai town for his dogs!
I got all this information from
Raghava Menon, who had a high opinion of NYJ and from Siasp and his wife
Zarine , who were good friends of ours.
Like most of my friends at that time, Nawab Saab was about twenty years my senior. I think I benefited a great deal from being friends with older people as I learnt from their experience and my equation was always as a learner and they had something to teach. Nawab Saab was an exception in that he had a variety of life experience that I have seldom found anywhere. He would not only tell stories but would draw lessons from them which I found very useful and applied in my life many years later. He was a Judo Brown belt, a pilot in the Royal Air Force, polo player and dressage expert, a crack shot with a rifle and shotgun, a woodsman who taught me to love the forest and how to take care of myself in it. He was a swimmer trained as a lifeguard. He was a planter, manager and a role model par excellence.
thing I remember about Nawab Nazir Yar Jung above all else is his storytelling.
Storytelling is an art. Not everyone can tell a good story. Nawab Saab was a
master of this art. Listening to him I remember being transported to the misty
slopes of Grass Hills, waiting in the cold of the dawn for the Nilgiri Thar to
present the opportunity for a good shot as they came out on the crags to take
the sun. I recalled these descriptions when I went to Grass Hills more than 25
years after him and felt that I had been there before. So vivid and detailed
were his descriptions.
remember feeling a hollow dropping sensation in the pit of my stomach as I
listened to him tell the story about how he was charged by a wounded Bison
(Gaur) and how his Airedale Terrier saved the day by drawing the animal away
towards it, allowing Nawab Saab to get the killing shot. But the dog, whose
name was Khan, went over the cliff with the bison and died. Nawab Saab would
have tears in his eyes when he told this story. I remember all the tips he gave
me about survival in the jungles and about woodcraft, all of which I have tried
and found to be superb. Every tip he gave me, be it about planting, or hunting,
or safety or human psychology, was true.
key to a good story is detail. Detail is what fills color into the outline.
Detail is what helps you to see what the storyteller has seen. I can vouch for
the fact that I could see the mist rise from the forest in the dawn as the sun
rose. I could smell the rank smell of elephant urine which announces their
presence in the forest. I could hear the rumblings of their stomachs and the low
deep hum by which they communicate. And many years later when I had the
privilege to walk in the same path that Nawab Nazir Yar Jung walked, I knew
that I had been there before. I had walked those paths in spirit, listening to
the narrative of a master storyteller and today I walked them myself and found
the story to be true in every respect. I knew the smells, the sights and the
feelings. Nawab Saab walked in spirit beside me and it felt good to know that.
Nazir Yar Jung was an international expert on dogs and was invited to judge dog
shows around the world. With him, I learned to train dogs for various activities,
from tracking to retrieving to guarding. Dogs are amazing creatures. One must
live with them and train them to know this. I spent many years right through
school and college doing this. Nawab Saab was at that time training a dog squad
for Thengakal Estate in Vandiperiyar, Kerala, which had perennial problems with
theft. More about that later. I worked with him training Dobermans, German
Shepherds, and Labradors for tracking and guard/attack work. Nawab Saab was a
strict disciplinarian and didn’t allow even his own cousin who was on our team
to call him anything other than Sir or Nawab Saab. He disliked people calling
him ‘Uncle’. He used to say, ‘I have nephews and don’t need any more. You can
call me Nawab Saab or Sir.’ This, however, didn’t reduce the warmth and
friendship with which he treated us. We would start very early in the morning
and work right through the day till it got very hot. Then we would stand down
and give the dogs a bath and feed them and we would all rest. Then in the
night, once it got dark, we would start the training once again.
Nawab Nazir Yar Jung, I learnt the importance of commitment to quality. He
never once used the word, but he never accepted anything but the best. Be it in
breeding dogs or in their training, or in training horses. Attention to detail
and insisting on the best. He was an expert in Judo and that also added to the
quality of what he taught us. He taught us many self-defense techniques using
our bare hands or ordinary objects of everyday use that are always at hand and
can be converted into weapons to defend yourself and make the attacker think
twice about attacking you. Martial arts training is more about training the
mind than about the body. Martial arts is about living with awareness, studying
your opponent, discovering his weakness, and exploiting it to your advantage.
It is also about building your opponent a bridge of gold to retreat over – as
Sun-Tzu calls it. But to do that you have to conquer your ego before conquering
your enemy. The worst enemy is an overindulged ego.
the years that I spent with Nawab Saab I learnt that when you work with animals
your own sensitivity and communication improves. Your language is useless as
the animal is only responding to sound, facial expression and signal. So the
importance of being absolutely precise not only in what you say, but in how you
say it and being aware of your body language when you are giving that command
are essential to get the instant obedience that only a dog can give you. Dogs
are so incredibly sensitive that they will pick up your facial expression or
the way you hold your hand when you give a command. And the next time you don’t
give it in that exact way, the animal gets confused. It is always essential to
be extremely self-aware to be a good trainer. I realized that training dogs was
equally if not more about training myself in how to communicate effectively. It
was hands-on experiential learning in being intensely aware of myself, my posture,
facial expression, tone of voice, mood, and overall disposition. I learnt all
this training dogs, but over the decades since then this helped me in
communication, public speaking, negotiating, and coaching people across three
continents. I thank Nawab Nazir Yar Jung for teaching me these lessons and I know
that he was pleased with me.
anticipate you to such an extent that to see a highly trained dog and his
handler at work is to witness magic. That is what we saw when we saw Nawab Saab
working with his dogs. The dog seemed to be doing everything on its own whereas
he was doing nothing without his handler’s command. But the commands are so
subtle that they are invisible to all but the trained eye that knows what to
look for. There is a wonderful program on British Television which shows
sheepdog trials. You see this handler standing a long way off in the field
directing his Border Collie (the favorite breed for these trails) entirely by
hand signals. The dog goes to the flock, cuts out precisely the number of sheep
that he is ordered to cut out, and drives them into the pen all on its own by
responding to signals that are invisible to us.
had for our own trainer, the best in the world. A man who had trained
everything from sheep dogs to tracking dogs, gun dogs, hunting dogs, and guard
dogs. And we learnt from him. I hope we learnt well. To test how well we had
trained the dogs to track, we would stand on one side of a wall that bordered a
large area of scrub vegetation. Then we would give our dog a ball which he
would hold in his mouth and smell. Then we would command him to sit and stay
and throw the ball as far as we could over the wall into the forest. The dog
would vibrate with excitement, yearning to go for the ball. We would count to
ten and then say, “Get!” And off he would go. A big Doberman would clear a six-foot
wall without so much as touching it. A Labrador would scramble over it. And
then a few minutes later, back it would come over the wall with the ball in its
mouth, circle the handler, and sit on his right. Then on command it would drop
the ball and take the piece of dry meat that the handler would give him as his
reward. How can I describe the excitement of testing your skill in the
performance of your animal? The lesson learnt – you stand or fall by how your
trainee performs – as important a lesson in corporate leadership as in training
animals. A good coach after all is not the one who has the greatest knowledge,
but the one whose team wins.
biggest learning for me in these early years was the realization that no matter
what you do, it is only worth doing if you aim at being the best in the world
at it. And to be the best, it is essential to be passionate about what you do.
I sincerely believe that it is impossible to excel in something that you do
only halfheartedly or because you are forced to. It is impossible to be the
best in the world in anything that you are not passionate about because you
will never put in the heroic effort that is needed for you to succeed. Another
realization was that when you are doing something that you are passionate
about, you never get tired or stressed out. You are always fresh and full of
energy and those around you also feel this. Passion is essential because it is
the only thing which makes the heroic effort seem worthy of the goal. Only the
passionate never compromise because compromise is the cancer which kills from
within. Passion is infectious; so is compromise. Stress occurs when we do things we don’t
learning is that if you are in a situation where you find yourself doing
something that you have no passion for, then it is essential to do one of two
things: Either kindle a passion for this activity by learning more about it and
seeing how it is valuable, or leave and find something that you do feel
passionate about. It makes no sense to do something that you have no love for. Happiness
is the result of doing something that is worthwhile, and which adds value and
not of how much money you make or what rank you have. Interestingly, it is when
the work feels worthless that people get overly concerned about titles, money,
and perquisites. That is why I tell my clients who talk about compensation as
an issue in people retention, “Money problems are not money problems, even when
they are money problems.” Most people
complain about the compensation when they are uninspired about their work. The
biggest proof of this are the many people in missionary and charitable
activities who work all hours for next to nothing and are very happy doing
their jobs. Happiness is therefore more about intangible rewards than about the
tangible ones. That’s why I say, ‘If it can’t make you cry, it can’t make you
dogs was a huge learning in human psychology. I learnt the importance of taking
a stand and then remaining firmly on it without giving in to the pressure to
change. I learnt that dogs and people will test your limits to see how firm you
are. Once they test the boundaries and find that they can’t be pushed away,
they accept them. Firmness and consistency are critical. There is nothing more
debilitating than a leader who is ambivalent. I learnt the value of physical
courage and how, if you stand with courage, you lend courage to those around
you. I learnt the value of leading from the front and that there is only one
leadership position – in the front – which is why those who follow are called
‘followers.’ What kind of a leader is it who has no followers? I learnt the
value of quiet companionship – there is nothing more relaxing than sitting on a
hillside with your dog beside you, watching the world go by. With Nawab Saab,
you didn’t chatter. If you had something useful to say, you said it; if you had
a question, you asked; otherwise you kept your mouth shut. The value of silence
was appreciated. Without silence inside your head and heart and outside in
terms of speaking, you can’t introspect or reflect. Silence has great value. We
didn’t have intrusive gadgets to disturb our peace and so we valued silence. In
the forest, silence also helps you to know who else is around. Knowledge that can
be critical to survival and enjoyment of your experience.
Saab taught us to pay attention to the dogs and their highly developed
faculties which warn of danger long before you would have been aware of it. This
is where his storytelling really came into his own. Every lesson had a set of
circumstances that it had been drawn from and that added value and meaning to
it. This was not merely theory but hard-earned life experience that we were
learning from. From my dogs, I learnt the value of unconditional love and
complete trust in someone. When my dog got injured during training, I would
order him to lie down and would then clean his wounds with hydrogen peroxide
and stitch him up without anesthesia. The dog would lie there, sometimes
whimpering in pain but never moving and never protesting or trying to harm me
in any way. He trusted me completely and knew that what I was doing was for his
good. There is nobody happier than a dog at seeing his master – no matter how
ugly or dirty, poor or hungry, unfashionable or square his master may be. To
the dog, his master is the best, most lovable, reliable, remarkable, and trustworthy
human being in the world. And that has nothing to do with whether in fact this
is true or not. The dog doesn’t care. Whatever the master may be to the rest of
the world, to his dog he is the best in the world. And that is the secret of a
great friendship and a great marriage. What you believe about someone and
demonstrate in your dealing with them, is what they rise to embody. That is why
they say, ‘Treat a man as if he is the best that he can be, and he becomes
that.’ Many years later I dealt with some of the most intractable and obnoxious
union leaders with great politeness, treating them as if they were heads of
state and all their nastiness went away and I didn’t have to suffer any of it.
People used to be surprised and asked me how I did it. I never let on the
secret – that my dogs taught me this lesson. Some readers may not take kindly
to being compared to dogs – but believe me, there is nothing more honorable in
terms of friendship and loyalty. This is what Nawab Saab taught us and we
learned these lessons well, very enjoyably and lived to realize their value
throughout our lives.
mentioned earlier, Nawab Saab was requested to train a dog squad for Thengakal Estate
in Vandiperiyar, Kerala. I don’t know if you have been inside a cardamom estate.
Almost 30 years after this story, I raised and planted cardamom in the Anamallais
and recalled those days when we were in that estate in Vandiperiyar. We trained
the dogs in Vilayat Manzil and in the lands behind Yusuf Tekri in Towli Chowki.
Today there isn’t an inch of vacant land in that place. In the early 70’s it
was miles of barren land with scrub bushes, some Sitaphal (Custard Apple – Annona
squamosa), some Lantana (Lantana camara), a sprinkling of Neem (Azadirachta indica), one or
two Peepul (Ficus Religiosa) and an occasional Banyan (Ficus Benghalensis). We would
load up the dogs in Khaja Nawab’s jeep and drive to Yusuf Tekri and then spend
the day training the dogs. Since these dogs were being trained as trackers and
guard dogs, the training was very intense. For tracking, we used Labradors whose
sense of smell is more developed and keener than the other breeds we had. For
guard/attack work, we used Dobermans and German Shepherds. But all dogs were
taught everything as well, as a backup even though we used them, whenever possible,
separately for these jobs.
fascinating to see how these different breeds worked. For a Doberman everything
was a competition. The dog would get stressed out, angry and would bust his gut
to do his best. A Labrador on the other hand took it all as a game and thoroughly
enjoyed himself. He was playing and having fun, whether he was following a
scent track or attacking an intruder and dragging him to the ground. Temperament
has a big effect on the trainability and steadiness of dogs and humans under stressful
conditions. Nawab Saab’s training technique was based on gaining the trust of the
animal and persuading him to work. Nawab Saab never used force or punishment
which was very commonly used by other trainers. The result was that Nawab Saab’s
dogs worked much better than anyone else’s. The only catch was that training
took longer than it would have taken if you simply beat the dog to a pulp and
then forced him to obey. Our dogs were our friends and beating one was
unthinkable. The other thing was the knowledge that success and failure was
really ours, the trainer’s. Not the dog’s. If the dog didn’t perform, it was I
who needed to look at my training technique, treatment of the dog, consistency
of command and it was I who needed to work harder. ‘Failing’ the dog or
punishing it was meaningless because the dog’s performance was a non-negotiable
goal. Every dog was trainable and if it didn’t get trained, it was I who was at
fault. Nobody needed to point that out to me. I knew it. I held myself accountable
for it and I succeeded or failed by this standard.
to our schooling technique today. Who passes or fails? Teacher or child? Who must
really pass or fail? What would happen if we changed that to what really should
happen and if teacher’s salaries were docked if children failed and they got a
bonus if they excelled? Same thing for the corporate world. Companies succeed
or fail because of what decision makers do. Not workers. But who gets laid off?
Responsibility must lie where it belongs and those responsible must get the
credit or pay the price. Not someone else, whose only fault was that they
obeyed orders. Once again, sorry about the comparison, but it is precisely this
ability to take learnings from one situation and apply them to a totally
unrelated situation that distinguishes human learning from animal learning.
That is what I learnt and that is how I learnt it. And that is why I say that I
owe so much of my learning to the very unusual childhood and youth that I had
and to mentors like Nawab Nazir Yar Jung, Uncle Rama and Aunty Mohini.
to our story, we finished our training and took the train with our dogs, to
Cochin. The dogs were in the Brake Van at the end of the train. Every few
stations, we would run to the back, unleash the dogs and take them out on the platform
to stretch their legs and greet telephone poles. Then give them some water and
back inside the Brake Van and we would run back to our compartment. Eventually
we reached Cochin where the estate transport met us and we drove for another
six hours to get to the estate to meet the Manager, Mr. Rudy Bosen.
Bosen very kindly invited Nawab Saab, me and Khaja Nawab to stay with him, and
his wife, Dorothy made some wonderful chocolate ice cream for us for dessert after
a lovely dinner. The estate had a big problem with theft as cardamom is a very
valuable spice and easy to steal. A cardamom plantation is extremely dense and
very easy to hide in. Thieves would come into the estate across the boundary at
night, with sickles and jute bags and simply cut the ripe bunches of cardamom
and take them away. To catch them in the dark was completely impossible. That
is why Rudy Bosen thought of using dogs and contacted Nawab Saab for help. The dilemma
was, how do you publicize the fact that now there are guard dogs which can
catch thieves. The challenge was to have the dogs merely as an effective
deterrent. Rudy Bosen didn’t really want anyone getting chewed up by a dog because
in Kerala that would likely cause a bigger problem than the theft.
Saab had a unique idea. He asked Mr. Bosen to invite all union leaders and whoever
wanted to come from the village to the estate to a dog show and competition at
the end of which they would be given a sumptuous meal and could win cash prizes.
People came in large numbers with great enthusiasm because there is nothing
much to do in the plantations and any kind of entertainment draws big crowds.
When everyone had settled down on the Muster ground under the marquee Nawab
Saab, through an interpreter asked for volunteers to take part in the
competition. He then picked six of the likeliest looking men. He told them to
go and hide anywhere they wanted to, in the plantation. But before they went
off, he took some item of clothing from each of them. He told them that he would
give them half an hour to go and hide and then the dogs would find them. Meanwhile
we put on a show of attack training which looks very ferocious indeed. For that
also we took volunteers, dressed them up in protective clothing and then the dogs
took them down. For a grown man, who thinks that he is strong, armed with a
knife or stick, to have a dog taking him down in one smooth lethal attack, is
very unnerving. That is what our objective was; to put the fear of the dogs in
the minds of the people and any potential thieves.
this demo was over, we got the tracking dogs out and gave them the clothing to
get a good sniff of and sent them into the plantation. The dogs disappeared in
a jiffy. There was initially some rustling of leaves. Then total silence. We
waited with bated breath as this was the final test of the pudding. If the dogs
missed even one man, our reputation would be shot. We were literally putting
our honor on the line. Then suddenly there was a scream. We ran into the
plantation following the calling of the dog. The tracking dogs had been trained
to ‘speak’. They would bark at regular intervals of a couple of seconds and would
continue for as long as it took for the handler to get to it. Bow-wow-wow-wow
and on, it would go. That told us that the dog had ‘treed’ the quarry or had pinned
him down and the sound would guide us to the animal. The long and short of it
was that we caught every single one of the men. Then we all came out of the jungle
to where everyone was waiting to see what had happened. The men looked very sheepish
and down in the mouth that they had not won the Rs. 1000 reward for the one who
could escape the dog. In the 1970’s Rs. 1000 was big money. Mr. Bosen was a smart
man. He still gave them consolation prizes for participating and then we all
had lunch with the union leaders and all competitors. The result of this was
that theft stopped on this estate as if someone had shut off a switch. The dogs
had such an effect on the psyche of the people that nobody wanted to take a
chance of meeting a dog in the dark of the night. As Sun Tzu says, ‘The wise
general never fights a battle. He wins without fighting.’ I have yet to see a ‘general’
as wise as Nawab Nazir Yar Jung.
also a place of learning. I was alone. I had a lot of time. I loved reading. I
was used to being alone and to reflecting and liked writing down my thoughts.
All excellent ways to conceptualize life experience.
I love the bush and I loved hunting. So every
alternate weekend Peter Ramsingh and I would go on a long drive into the bush
to hunt what we could. Most of this was for the table because in the Kwakwani
of those days, if you wanted variety on your table you had to find it yourself.
And it was not in the Commissary that you would find it either. Mostly, we
hunted the Canje Pheasant found all along the Berbice and its tributary, the
Canje Creek. Another common game bird was the Powis (Curassow). It was as big
as a turkey and good eating. We would also on occasion get an Agouti (Brazilian
Agouti or Red, Orange or Golden Rumped Agouti) or two. And when we were very
lucky, a small Savannah deer. Bush pig, the Collared Peccary (called Javelina)
was also good game and though we both did not eat it, we had many friends who
welcomed our hunts because we were the only people who would shoot a pig and
then give it away.
Peter inherited my yellow Land Rover when the
sawmill started and I got a small Toyota pickup. Peter and I would take turns
driving the Land Rover over the bush trails. It contained in the back,
everything that we needed for our camping and in case of an emergency. A
chainsaw, thick rope, hammocks, spare petrol, an axe, a spade, the ever present
cutlasses and various odds and ends. We would put in a cooler filled with
drinks and some pre-cooked bananas or cassava and off we would go. What would
have been ideal was a cell phone or radio but the first hadn’t been invented
and the second we didn’t have. So we relied on ourselves. What we shot, we
would cook in the bush and eat. What we saved, we would bring home. Sometimes
in the bush we would come across a deep stream and would have to build a bridge
to get across. Sometimes we would get stuck in the sandy soil and would have to
tie the rope to a tree nearby and use the winch on the Land Rover to haul it
out. In the evening we would find a camping place, tie the hammocks to ever
present trees, all conveniently located so that we could tie our hammocks of
course. Then we would light a fire and put on the tea pot. Once we had a nice
cup of tea, we would put on the cooking pot. Peter, meanwhile, would have
cleaned the game of the day. We would get water from the stream nearby, water
that was coffee colored but perfectly clean and tasteless. The bush meat would
go into the pot with salt and chillies, some onions, and as it cooked we would
sit and talk about life.
The big topic of conversation at the time was the
posturing of Venezuela, which bordered Guyana and had a border dispute. There
was some chance that this would escalate to a military conflict. The Guyana
Army was not in a position to face the much bigger and powerful Venezuelan
army, but nobody would admit that. There was some discussion about whether
Guyana would introduce conscription, so Peter was concerned if he would be
called to join the Army. I was a foreigner and so was in no such ‘danger.’ To
speak the truth though, I would have welcomed the adventure. However, as it
turned out, South Americans are far wiser than their northern cousins and the
matter was resolved peacefully.
Another topic was the government of President
Burnham. This was a dangerous topic to talk about in a dictatorship where even
your thoughts would be monitored if they could be, all in the name of freedom
and democracy of course. But we were far away in the bush and Peter was in the
company of a trusted friend. I was therefore the confidant of many ordinary
people who wanted to vent their frustration with the way the country was being
misgoverned. It was amazing to see how a country so rich in natural resources,
so fertile, and with such wonderful people could be run into the ground so
The bush in South America is different from its
counterpart in India or Africa because of the absence of major predators. The
only big ones are the Jaguar and the Anaconda, but neither will actually attack
a person except in special circumstances. So it is possible to actually sleep
very peacefully as long as you are not on the ground.
An hour or so later, once the food was ready, we
would take the pot off the fire, pull out the bread that we had brought, and
have our dinner. Then after some more discussion of world affairs, we would
climb into our hammocks and drift off into peaceful sleep looking at the
stars—possible only because we were at the river bank where the canopy did not
obstruct the view. Those days seem like a dream today. Almost as if they never
happened. And Guyana is so far away from where I am today that it seems as if I
will never see my friends again. Be that as it may, the memories are alive in
my heart and on these pages; they will live on in the minds of those who read
this. We live in the memories that we give others. So it is important to be
conscious of the memories we leave behind. This doesn’t mean that we live a
life for others. But it does mean that we remember one cardinal fact,
‘Everything we choose to do or choose not to do, reflects brand value and
character and is the stuff of memories.’
Remember when you read these pages that if I have
written about a stream, it is there and the water is good to drink. These are
stories of real life, real people, their hopes and loves and fears. And they
will live on until they are remembered.
Peter got another friend Leon Molenuex to build a
flat bottomed boat for me. It was 18 feet in length with a flat bottom, low
sides and a blunt prow. Its back was flat to fix an outboard motor. It had oar
locks and two oars. And it had an ice box in the middle with bench seats, a
plank each on either side of the ice box, forward and rear. Peter and I, and
sometimes Leon would also come along, would load up the boat every Friday
afternoon that we could get away and go up the Berbice River. What did we take
with us? Hammocks, cutlasses, one single barreled 16 bore shotgun each. Rope,
fishing line, hooks and a fishing net. Some rice, cassava, bananas and salt and
pepper. And most importantly some chicken guts in a plastic bag. The last being
what we called our ‘emergency ration’. Not that we ate them, but if we caught
nothing then if you baited a hook with raw chicken guts and trawled them behind
your boat you were sure to get some Piranha. Good eating.
It was a matter of honor for us that we would only
eat what we could hunt or catch. Since neither Peter nor I ate pork, it took
one of the most common items off our menu – Collared Peccary (Bush Pig) that we
would be sure to see. But we never returned hungry. We would trawl as we moved
along and usually caught some Lukanani (Peacock
cichlid, Cichla ocellaris) or Grey Snapper (Acoupa weakfish, Cynoscion acoupa), two of the delicacies of the Amazonian River system and
would roast them for dinner. If we were fortunate then either Peter or I would
also be able to bag one of the several species of Curassows that lived in those
forests. The most common were the Black Curassow (Crax alector) and the
Crestless Curassow (Mitu tomentosum). Or even an Agouti (Cuniculus
paca, Dasyprocta aguti) which is from the Paca family and a relative
of the rabbit and Capybara but much smaller. Game was in such abundance that
there was never a trip on which we had to go hungry but we would also bring
back fish and game for Peter’s family and the families of other friends.
Almost every other Friday evening, we would start
from Kwakwani going upriver, travelling until it got dark. Then we would find a
sandy spot on the river bank and camp for the night. That sounds a bit chancy
when you read it but we had our spots and knew them well so we just headed for
the first one. A sandy bank was necessary because like all the rivers in this
part of the world, the trees of the rain forest trailed their feet in the river
all along its banks. That made landing very difficult and camping impossible.
So you needed to look for a sandy bank. That happened at the bends in the river
where the river deposited its sand and this collected over the years to make
for some very attractive sandy crescents on which we camped.
Our routine was always the same. We would draw the
boat up on the bank and I would collect wood for a fire. Peter and I would then
sling up our hammocks from the trees that bordered the bank, first clearing the
undergrowth around their trunks to ensure that we didn’t end up with unwanted
sleeping partners. We would trawl as we travelled upriver and so we would have
a couple of good size fish in our ice box. Once the fire was lit, Peter would
put the kettle on and I would gut the fish and clean them. Then I would rub
salt into the fish and prepare it for the bake. Taking two large yam leaves (or
any other large leaf), I would wrap the fish securely in it and tie the whole
bundle with a thread. Then I would dig in the river bank for clay and cover the
fish warp with clay and make a ‘brick’ of clay – one for each fish. Once that
was ready, I would remove the kettle from the fire, move the coals aside and
dig in the sand and bury the clay bricks in the hot sand. I would then put the
coals back on top and light the fire again. By the time our tea was ready so
would the fish. We would then dig out the bricks and crack them open, remove
the leaf covering and we had the most delicious baked fish you can imagine for
dinner. There is nothing to beat fresh fish cooked with a little salt, in its
own juices, with a bit of butter melted on top.
When dinner was done, we would climb into our
hammocks and chat about whatever was at top of the mind until I would hear a
snore in response to whatever I was saying. I would know then that Peter was
off on his trip to dreamland. The rainforest is a safe place as long as you
didn’t do anything stupid like sleeping on the riverbank. As long as you are
off the ground nothing bothers you and I am living proof. There are many
animals which are dangerous in these forests but none that will take a human
being by choice. So as long as you stay out of their normal pathways you will
Lying in the hammock waiting for sleep to come, I
would listen to the sounds of the forest and try to identify each one. The
Amazonian rainforest is a rather silent place in the night, unlike Indian
forests. The animals are less vocal and the forest itself muffles sound thanks
to its density – you don’t hear much except insects. If you are near the river
there are not many mosquitos but you do get vampire bats and so you need to
cover up unless you wish to be bitten by one of them. That doesn’t turn you
into a vampire or anything so romantic, but the wound can bleed for a long time
as there is heparin in the bat’s saliva which prevents blood from clotting. In
addition, I am sure vampire bites are not exactly what any doctor would order
so it is better to stay off their menu.
Early next morning, we would start out at first
light, or sometimes even a bit earlier, going over what looks like boiling hot
water because of the ‘steam’ rising from it. That ‘steam’ is the mist that gets
created when the warm water vapor laden air meets the cold river surface and
gives the whole atmosphere an ethereal quality. Engine buzzing with Peter at
the rudder, we would travel in companionable silence, eyes ever watchful for
floating logs. These were the only real danger because if you hit one full
tilt, it would take the bottom out of the boat. A fate not to be contemplated
as the Berbice has Piranha, Cayman, and other interesting forms of life.
The Berbice is a wonderful river that changes its
nature all along its course. Downriver from Kwakwani it is deep enough for
large vessels to negotiate it. Bauxite ore from Kwakwani would be transported
on barges pushed by a tug boat all the way to New Amsterdam on the coast to the
smelter. These tugs would normally have a tow of four barges; each sixty feet
in length which when fully loaded would sink to their gunnels with the weight.
The tug boat captain’s job was a very complex one, negotiating bends in the
river a hundred and fifty feet ahead through frequent blindingly heavy rain
showers and through the night. Since tug boats and barges are about the
clumsiest of watercraft and with the kind of weight the barges carried, this
was no mean task. It was a tribute to the training and skills of tug boat
captains that there had never been any instance of the barges heading out of
the river, cross country across the rain forest.
Going upriver, however, the nature of the Berbice
changes. It is no longer the deep river but spreads wide and shallow with frequent
sandbars; so shallow in places that one could easily wade across. So much so
that on occasion we would have to pull in the outboard motor and drag the boat
over the sandbank. In this also there was a twist. In this river sand, there
were two kinds of dangers. One that it could be quick sand with so much water
under it that if you stepped into it, you could easily sink in over your head
and die a horrible death. To guard against that we would get out of the boat
only one at a time and hang onto the side of the boat until we were completely
sure of our footing. Only then would be let go of the boat and then the other
person would also get off and we would drag the boat over into water deep
enough to float it.
The second danger was that of Stingrays. These are
fresh water rays with a poisonous sting in the tail. Their favorite pastime is
to lie buried and invisible in the sand of sandbars, just under the surface and
wait for something to come within range and then they would sting by shooting a
poisonous spike into it and then wait until it dies to eat it. Their normal
prey is small fish but if you were to step on or close to one of them, then
they would sting you out of fright. I am sure there are more painful things in
life than a stingray sting—I just I don’t know what they are. And if you happen
to be allergic to the poison then 50 kilometers up the Berbice River in the
middle of the Amazonian rain forest is not where you want to discover this.
Even if you are not allergic, the sting means
several days of fever, swollen lymph nodes, swollen foot and almost
incapacitating pain. So what we would do is to put on our boots before we
stepped into the water. Alternatively, you could use a stick and hold it ahead
of you and push it in the sand ahead of you as you walk to ensure that you
disturb the Stingray and drive it away before you get too close to it.
As we went upriver, we would sometimes pass single
houses on stilts on the bank of the river with a little patch of garden at the
back growing cassava, banana, and a couple of jackfruit trees. The house was
one large room built on a high platform with a leaf or grass thatch. The walls
were of woven mat with holes for windows. There would be a couple of dugout
canoes tied to one of the poles with a rickety step going up to the platform.
Children playing on the step or in the canoes would yell and scream at us with
great excitement and delight. If we had time we would stop by and pass out some
sweets or bananas that we would carry for such occasions. Otherwise we would
wave to them and they would continue to wave and yell until we rounded the next
bend of the river out of sight. I always wondered what would make a person go
and live so far up the river in the middle of nowhere, alone without access to
electricity, medical aid, and schooling for his children, and without any
amenities. These Amerindians would hunt, gather honey and balata (wild rubber
latex) and farm a little and would occasionally come to Kwakwani to buy a few
things and sell their balata and honey and some wild meat. But they would not
work at a regular job for love or money nor would they live closer to town.
They preferred to live miles upriver and paddle their canoes several hours to
get to Kwakwani and longer to return, paddling against the current on their way
It was a wonderful experience, buzzing along up
the river hour after hour, listening to the sounds of the forest. Macaw pairs
flying high over the canopy, talking to each other. Macaws believe that
conversation makes for happy marriages and it seems to work for them as they
pair for life and talk all the time. Toucans screaming whatever they scream
about. The booming call of the Howler Monkey sentinel, answered by his
counterpart in another part of the forest. The sudden crash in the undergrowth
as you come around a bend and scare away something that was drinking at the
edge of the bank. From the sound of the crashing you can guess whether it was a
Collared Peccary or a Tapir. Deer and Agouti move very quietly and you wouldn’t
even know that they had been there.
One weekend we decided to go as far as we could
and eventually we must have gone more than a hundred kilometers when we came to
place where the river widened into a huge pool. We entered the pool from the
side that the river flowed out of. On the opposite side where the river flowed
into was a series of rapids and short waterfalls. The sides of the pool were
sandy and made excellent camping ground. We were delighted with the whole
prospect. It was a very beautiful place indeed. Peter and I decided to camp for
the night and pulled onto the sand and dragged the boat far up onto the sand.
No telling if the river would rise in the night and float the boat away. That
is not a prospect to be contemplated, being a hundred kilometers or more in the
middle of nowhere without a boat. Trekking through rain forest is not an
occupation to be thought of easily.
I got the fire going while Peter hung up our
hammocks. Suddenly, I noticed on the far end of the pool near the rapids, a
permanent structure on a concrete platform, a room roofed with corrugated iron
sheets. It looked like a government structure and I wondered what it could be.
Once we’d had our dinner and before it got dark we decided to go across and
take a look at what it was. When we tied up to the little jetty there, an
Indian Guyanese man came down to the water and greeted us. With him was an
American who looked like some kind of technician by the way he was dressed, in
overalls. We made our mutual introductions and it turned out that the structure
was a weather monitoring station with some equipment from Motorola, which
needed repair. The American engineer was from Motorola and had come to repair
the equipment onsite. In the course of conversation, he asked me where I was
from. I told him that I was from India.
He asked me, ‘Where from in India?’
I replied, ‘Hyderabad.’
He got very excited and told me, ‘I have been to
Hyderabad. I have a friend there. His name is J. J. Singh and he works at the
Administrative Staff College. Do you know him?’
I rolled my eyes and said, ‘Do I know him? Of
course, I know him! But look at this, what is the probability that I would be
in the middle of the Amazonian rain forest, hundred kilometers up the Berbice
River, where I would meet an American who I had no idea would be there and we
would have a mutual friend? If there was someone betting on this we would both
be millionaires, man!!’ And we both had a great laugh. Whenever someone tells
me, ‘It’s a small world’, I tell them, ‘Yes, but much smaller than you think.’ And
I tell them this story. To date, nobody has told me a story more unlikely than
People sometimes look at the misery that surrounds us and ask, ‘Why doesn’t God do something about all the sick and dying and starving people?’ The answer is, ‘God did something already. He created you and gave you the means to feed at least one hungry person, pay for the education of one child, pay the hospital bill of one sick person and so on. If you can’t feed a hundred people, feed one. If you can’t build a school, pay the fee of one child to go to school. It is a common cop-out strategy to blame the external world, in this case God, for all the suffering we see around us. Those who are really serious about wanting to help, don’t blame, but ask themselves, ‘What can I do?’ That is what Islam teaches us. To do something. Not to simply complain. Problems need solutions, not complaints. Compassion is the best basis for a society.
In the life of every man and woman comes a time and a window opens when they have a unique opportunity to make an impact and influence others. To succeed we need to anticipate, prepare and act with courage when it opens
Living life is about making choices- the choice to be a ‘victim’ of circumstances or the choice to do something about circumstances and be their ‘master’. We are free to make this choice – to be a ‘victim’ or to be a ‘master’ – but the choices; each has a different payoff in terms of its consequences. Both stances are subject to the same givens of society, environment, organization etc. But have very different implications in terms of our development and happiness
It is one of the fallacies that people assume: that when we say we have freedom of choice; the choice is free of consequences. This is a myth and like all myths, it is a fantasy and a lie. We have freedom to choose but every choice has a price tag – every choice that we make is the same in this context. Each has a price tag. Foolish people make choices without first ascertaining the price tag and are then surprised, shocked, disappointed and so on, when the time comes to pay for the choice.
To return to our discussion, ‘victims’ are people who complain about adversity, think of excuses, blame others, lose hope and perish. ‘Victims’ can be individuals, groups, communities or nations. The ‘victim stance’ is the same – complain and blame. When ‘victims’ find themselves in difficulties, they look around for scapegoats; for someone to blame. They invent conspiracy theories. They like to live with a ‘siege’ mentality. They try to tell everyone that the only reason they are in the mess that they are in, is because everyone in the world is out to get them. They think that as long as there is someone to blame, they are faultless. They don’t stop to think that no matter who they blame, their problems still exist and that it is they and not whoever they blame, that is suffering.
‘Masters’ on the other hand are people who when faced with difficulty and adversity, first look at themselves to see how and why they came to be in that situation, own their responsibility and then look for solutions to resolve that situation. They have the courage to try new ways and so they win even if they fail. “Masters’ recognize that whatever happens to us is at least in part, if not wholly, a result of the choices that we made, consciously or unconsciously. The result of what we chose to do or chose not to do. Consequently, if we recognize that we created the situation, then it follows logically that we can also create its solution.
The characteristic of ‘Masters’ is that even when they may temporarily be in a ‘Victim’ situation, they quickly ask themselves the key question: ‘Okay so what can I do about this situation?’ This question is the key to taking a ‘Masterful’ stance in life. This is in itself, a tremendously empowering mindset which frees a person from the shackles of self-limiting barriers to his or her development. A ‘master’ never says, ‘I can’t’. She/he says, “I don’t know if I can!” – And in that, is a world of difference. The difference between the shepherd and his sheep.
The key question to ask therefore is, ‘In terms of the challenges that I face today, what do I need to do if I want to be a ‘Master’ and not a ‘Victim’? What is the investment that I need to make in order to succeed? Free fall and flight feel the same in the beginning. But it is the end which spells the difference between life and death. One lands safely. The other crashes and burns. Ignoring the law of aerodynamics does not change the law or its result.
Similarly, in life, in our race to succeed, we may well be tempted to ignore the laws of gain – that gain is directly proportional to contribution. We may be tempted to buy the line that what you can grab is yours to take, no matter the consequences to others. Just as the one in free fall may thumb his nose at the one who is flying, even claiming that he is traveling faster than the flyer – the reality is that his speed is aided by gravity which is rapidly pulling him towards his own destruction. It is not speed therefore which matters. It is the direction of flight and the way it ends.
Compassion, concern for others, a service focus, measuring contribution in the same way that we measure profit, willingness to do what it takes to deliver the best possible quality not because someone is watching but because we consider the quality of our output to be our signature and a reflection of our identity – all these are the real pathways to wealth, influence and prosperity. The critical difference is that prosperity that comes in these ways is sustainable, long lasting and spreads goodness all around.
Prosperity that is sought without regard to those who share the world with us, people, animals, environment; without regard to values, ethics and morals with the sole criterion being the amount of money that can be made is short-lived, has a high cost and spreads misery and suffering, including for the one who was chasing it.
We live in an intensely connected world and the sooner we realize that and start taking care of the connections, the better off we are likely to be. We have seen graphically the results of the alternative – blind pursuit of profit.
‘Growth for the sake of growth is the philosophy of the cancer cell.’ ~ Madhukar Shukla
They called it freedom. And freedom is a good word, so we thought nothing of it. Freedom to do whatever they want, to be themselves, to express themselves, to have space; they called it. It sounded like a good thing. After all, don’t we all believe that the fight for freedom is the good fight and don’t we support all those who are fighting to gain freedom?
We should have asked, ‘Freedom from what? To do what? What does ‘express yourself’ mean? What is the meaning of ‘space?’
Then we would have learnt that freedom meant, freedom from all restraint, all rules of decency, all that holds the fabric of moral, socially responsible society together. But then, isn’t that what we used to call anarchy?
“Yes, it is”, they said. But then you see, those are the quaint and frankly embarrassingly idiotic and backward, middle class values that we used to live by. High time we jettisoned them and joined the mainstream of modern society in the global village.
They forgot to tell us that in the global village the dominant culture is the culture of consumerism. The culture of consumption. The culture of self-indulgence with the only limit being the spending power of your credit card. They forgot to tell us that in the process of creating this society it was necessary to create a high degree of irresponsibility, a sense that only ‘I’ matter and the rest can go to hell. ‘Each man for himself and the Devil take the last.’ ‘Family’ in this society is a 6 – letter word; a bad word because families epitomize responsibility. And responsibility is another 14 – letter bad word. Responsible people save. They don’t spend. They conserve. They re-cycle. They don’t waste. They become sedate. They don’t follow fads and trends. Responsible people don’t support consumerism. They are bad news.
So, the family must be destroyed.
To do that promiscuity and immorality must first be encouraged. But you can’t call it that, can you? That will draw too much flak. So, they invented another phrase – adult consent.
Now being adult is all about taking decisions about your own life without anyone else having the right to ‘interfere’, right? If two adults want to do something who is anyone else, be it society, be it the law or be it religion, to dictate what they can and can’t do? That is the opposite of freedom, right? And the opposite of freedom is oppression, right? And oppression is a bad thing, right?
So adult consent came into being. And we supported it.
Now to take the ‘fight for freedom’ to its next stage and that is, to define who is an adult. Age of consent. 21 years? Too old. People mature long before that. So, 18? Why not 16? 16 is the ideal age of consent because a person is mature at 16, so why should they be prevented from exercising their right to freedom any longer? That sounds much better.
How do you make promiscuity acceptable in a society that insists on decency and morality? Well the best way is through advertisements, serials and movies. Bollywood, Hollywood and all the commercial product and service advertisements do a cardinal job of chipping away at the bastions of social morals until what was unmentionable a decade ago becomes fashionable in this decade. We call it entertainment. We call it being progressive. We call it being chic and those who don’t subscribe are the squares. That’s the thin edge of the wedge. Once it gets into the doorway, the rest is inevitable and only a matter of time. We thought nothing of a biscuit advertisement that showed a scantily dressed woman lounging languidly on a couch. We thought nothing of an ice cream stick ad which showed a woman holding the stick almost touching parted lips, in a gesture that clearly reminded you of something else. We thought nothing of a pocket PC ad that focused more on the curve of the buttock supporting the pocket than the PC which protruded therefrom. And all the while we comforted ourselves with the thought that after all these were only billboards featuring some women we did not know personally. So, they can’t hurt us, can they?
We did not see or chose not to see the real agenda – social engineering. Changing the standards of society. Changing what is acceptable and what is not. Changing what is considered taboo and what is not. Moving something from ‘unthinkable’ to ‘aspirational’. You did not think it could be done, did you? Well, just look at the way advertising and films have changed over the last 3 decades and you will see how things that our parent’s generation would have had a heart attack seeing, don’t even attract a comment from us.
But why do you need a woman’s naked body to sell ice cream? Isn’t that oppression of women? “No, it isn’t”, we were told. “You see, she is doing it of her own free will. Just like playing tennis in micro-skirts.” But wearing a burqa is oppression. But what if the one wearing the burqa is doing it of her own free will? “Not possible”, you were told. “The burqa is not religion. It is subservience.” Ask Sarkozy. So, it must be banned. But forcing people to take clothes off is as much oppression as forcing them to put them on, isn’t it? Ah!! You will never understand. But it doesn’t matter, because you don’t matter. You are too old fashioned and out of date.
We watched pre-marital and extra-marital relationship scenes in movies in the name of story line and plot and marveled at the acting skill (after all it is all acting and not real, we comforted ourselves) until suddenly one day our children started to have similar relationships.
When we watched the movie, we never thought it would happen in our own home, did we? But then weren’t we accepting the new world order when we paid to watch the movie?
Was it not we, who told our children that pre-marital or extra-marital sex were okay, when we watched the movie together as a family? Was it not we who gave our children the message that our morals had changed and that it was no longer necessary for them to take us as role models but instead to take the actors and actresses as worthy of emulation?
Then came television and the lovely serials, ending each day on a note of suspense that ensured that we watched what happened the next day. Bold & Beautiful, which may have been bold but was certainly not beautiful. Relationships of men and women that eventually got so confused that the woman who was once the wife of the father is now the wife of the brother while simultaneously being the paramour of someone else. What freedom!! And where was all this happening and being watched? In our own living rooms. In homes where women were in purdah, extra-marital relationships were displayed in full detail and watched by the whole family completely without shame. Why? Because of course we believed it couldn’t happen to us and what we were seeing was ‘only acting’.
And for those of us who were among the watchers exclusively of National Geographic, talk shows, news and Animal Planet – well you see, it is the commercials that ensure that you can see these shows and what is in the commercials? Pushing the boundaries of desire, daring, challenging norms and making the impossible, possible. Not one of those words that I have used, will you challenge. Not one of them in themselves is objectionable. But look at a commercial – almost anyone of them and you will see each of these concepts in a totally different light. But we didn’t think about that, did we? Because we don’t think, period. And for those who don’t watch any TV at all there are newspapers, magazines and the ever present, ever more daring billboards.
Then there is hate speech. It is natural to like or dislike people; individuals we meet, have known, work with or live beside. But it is not natural to like or dislike entire nations, ‘people’, groups, communities and ethnicity. When we do that it is called ‘racism’, ‘stereotyping’, ‘discrimination’ and worse. But do it in the name of ‘nationalism’, ‘patriotism’ and ‘ethnic pride’ (though you don’t call it that) is not only acceptable but is ‘good’, ‘virtuous’ and ‘honorable’ while its opposite is, well, what is the opposite of nationalism and patriotism? That is not nice, is it? That is how hate speech suddenly came out of the closet of our hearts. Emotions and ideas which eventually led to the holocaust, suddenly became legitimized and respectable enough to be spoken from public platform. The only difference is that the new ‘Jews on the block’ are Muslims; though Jews are still not off the hook in some countries. But this is not about Jews or Christians or Muslims or Hindus. It is about realizing that the socialization that led to one of the worst crimes in history, is once again raising its ugly head and is being applauded and supported. Hate speech, no matter in what disguise is not acceptable. All hatred is fire and the result is always ash. That is a lesson we should have learned, having paid such a high price for it. But did we?
The thin edge of the wedge that was inserted in the doorway has very effectively worked its way in, and the door is now wide open.