Monday, October 02, 2006
Friday, July 14, 2006
How infosys was born - a reminiscence by Sudha Murthy.
SUDHA MURTHY, AUTHOR AND WIFE OF INFOSYS CHAIRMAN NARAYANA MURTHY, TELLS THE STORY OF HOW INFOSYS WAS BORN AND HOW HER LIFE HAS CHANGED... YET REMAINED VERY MUCH THE SAME
I was in Pune that I met Narayana Murthy through my friend Prasanna, who is now the Wipro chief, who was also training in Telco. Murthy was shy, bespectacled and an introvert. When he invited us for dinner, I was a bit taken aback... I refused since I was the only girl in the group. But Murthy was relentless and we all decided to meet for dinner the next day at 7.30 pm at Green Fields Hotel on Pune's Main Road. The next day, I went there at seven since I had to go to the tailor near the hotel. And what do I see? Mr Murthy waiting in front of the hotel and it was only seven. Till today, Murthy maintains that I had mentioned (consciously!) that I would be going to the tailor at seven, so that I could meet him... And I maintain that I did not say any such thing, consciously or subconsciously, because I did not think of Murthy as anything other than a friend at that stage. We have agreed to disagree on this matter. Soon, we became friends. Our conversations were filled with Murthy's experiences abroad and the books that he had read. My friends insisted that Murthy was trying to impress me because he was interested in me. I kept denying it till one day, after dinner, Murthy said, I want to tell you something. I knew this was it. It was coming. He said, I am 5'4" tall. I come from a lower middleclass family. I can never become rich. You are beautiful, bright, intelligent and you can get anyone you want. But will you marry me?
I asked him to give me some time...
When I went to Hubli, I told my parents about Murthy and his proposal. My mother was positive since Murthy was also from Karnataka, seemed intelligent and came from a good family. But my father asked: What's his job, his salary, his qualifications, etc? Murthy was working as a research assistant and earning less than me. He was willing to go Dutch with me on our outings.
My parents agreed to meet him in Pune on a particular day at 10 am sharp. Murthy did not turn up. How can I trust a man to take care of my daughter if he cannot keep an appointment, asked my father. At 12 noon, Murthy turned up in a bright red shirt! He had gone on work to Bombay, got stuck in a traffic jam in the ghats, so he hired a taxi (though it was very expensive for him) to meet his would-be father-in-law. Father was unimpressed. He asked Murthy what he wanted to become in life. Murthy said he wanted to become a politician in the Communist Party and wanted to open an orphanage. My father gave his verdict. No. I don't want my daughter to marry somebody who wants to become a communist and then open an orphanage when he himself doesn't have money to support his family...
By this time, I realised I had developed a liking towards Murthy, which could only be termed as love. I wanted to marry him because he was an honest man. I promised my father that I would not marry Murthy without his blessings, though at the same time, I would not marry anybody else. My father said he would agree if Murthy promised to take up a steady job. But Murthy refused, saying he would not do things in life because somebody wanted him to. I was caught between the two most important people in my life. The stalemate continued for three years, during which our courtship took us to every restaurant and cinema hall in Pune. Murthy was always broke. (Ironically, today, he manages Infosys Technologies Ltd, one of the world's most reputed companies.) He always owed me money. We used to go for dinner and he would say, I don t have money with me, you pay my share, will return it to you later. For three years, I maintained a book of Murthy's debts to me. No, he never returned the money and I finally tore it up after our wedding. The amount was a little over Rs 4,000. During this period, Murthy quit his job as a research assistant and started his own software business... Towards the late'70s computers were entering India in a big way. At the fag end of 1977, Murthy decided to take up a job as General Manager at Patni Computers in Bombay. But before he joined the company, he wanted to marry me since he was to go on training to the US after, joining. My father gave in as he was happy Murthy had a decent job, now. We were married in Murthy's house in Bangalore on February 10, 1978, with only our two families present. I got my first silk sari. The wedding expenses came to only Rs 800, with Murthy and I pooling in Rs 400 each. I went to the US with Murthy after marriage. He encouraged me to see America on my own, because I loved travelling. I toured America for three months with a backpack. In 1981, Murthy wanted to start Infosys. Initially, I was very apprehensive about him getting into business. We were living a comfortable life in Bombay with a regular paycheck and I didn't want to rock the boat. But Murthy was passionate about creating good quality software. I decided to support him. Typically for Murthy, he had a dream and no money. So I gave him Rs 10,000 which I had saved for a rainy day without his knowledge and told him, this is all I have. Take it. I will take care of the financial needs of our house. You go and chase your dreams. But you have only three years! Murthy and his six colleagues started Infosys in 1981. In 1982, I left Telco and moved to Pune with Murthy. We bought a small house on loan, which also became the Infosys office. I was a clerk-cum-cook-cumprogrammer. I also took up a job as Senior Systems Analyst with the Walchand group of Industries to support the house. In'83, Infosys got their first client, MICO, in Bangalore. Murthy moved to Bangalore and stayed with his mother, while I went to Hubli to deliver my second child, Rohan. Ten days after my son was born, Murthy left for the US on project work. I saw him only after a year - my son had infantile eczema. It was only after Rohan received all his vaccinations that I came to Bangalore where we rented a small house in Jayanagar and rented another house as Infosys headquarters. Nandan Nilekani and his wife Rohini stayed with us. While Rohini babysat my son, I wrote programmes for Infosys. There was no car, no phone, just two kids and a bunch of us working hard, juggling our lives and having fun while Infosys was taking shape. The wives of other partners too, gave their unstinting support. We all knew that our men were trying to build something good.
Murthy made it very clear that it would either be me or him working at Infosys. Never the two of us together. He did not want a husband and wife team at Infosys. I was shocked since I had the relevant experience and technical qualifications. He said, Sudha if you want to work with Infosys, I will withdraw, happily I was pained to know that I would not be involved in the company my husband was building and that I would have to give up a job that I was qualified to do and loved doing... Then, I realised that to make Infosys a success, one had to give 100 per cent. One had to be focused on it alone, with no other distractions. If the two of us had to give 100 per cent to Infosys, what would happen to our home and our children? I opted to be a homemaker; after all, Infosys was Murthy's dream. It was a big sacrifice, but it was one that had to be made. Even today, Murthy says, Sudha, I stepped on your career to make mine. You are responsible for my success.
I might have given up my career for my husband's sake, but that does not make me a doormat... Isn't freedom about living your life the way you want it? What is right for one person might be wrong for another. It is up to the individual to make a choice that is effective in her life. I believe that when a woman gives up her right to choose for herself, that is when she crosses over from being an individual to a doormat.
Murthy's dreams encompassed not only himself, but a generation of people. It was about creating something worthy, exemplary and honourable. It was about creation and distribution of wealth. His dreams were grander than my career plans, in all aspects. So, when I had to choose between Murthy's career and mine, I opted for what I thought was the right choice. We had a home and two little children. Somebody had to take care of it all. Somebody had to stay behind to create a home base that would be fertile for healthy growth, happiness, and more dreams to dream. I became that somebody willingly I can confidently say that if I had had a dream like Infosys, Murthy would have given me his unstinted support. The roles would have been reversed. We are not bound by the archaic rules of marriage. He does not intrude into my time, especially when I am writing my novels. He does not interfere in my work at the Infosys Foundation and I don't interfere with the running of Infosys. I teach computer science to MBA and MCA students at Christ College for a few hours every week and I earn around Rs 50,000 a year. I value this financial independence greatly, though there is no need for me to pursue a career. Murthy respects that. I travel the world without him, because he hates travelling. We trust each other implicitly. We have another understanding too. While he earns the money, I spend it mostly through charity. The Infosys Foundation was born in 1997 with the sole objective of uplifting the less-privileged sections of society. In the past three years, we have built hospitals, orphanages, rehabilitation centres, school buildings, science centres and more than 3,500 libraries. Our work is mainly in the rural areas amongst women and children. I am one of the trustees of the Foundation, and our activities span six states. I travel to around 800 villages constantly. Every year, we donate around Rs 5-6 crores. We run Infosys Foundation the way Murthy runs Infosys - in a professional and scientific way. Philanthropy is a profession and an art. It can be used or misused. Every year, we receive more than 10,000 applications for donations. Every day, I receive more than 120 calls. Amongst these, there are those who genuinely need help and there are hoodwinkers too. Over the years, I have learnt to differentiate the wheat from the chaff, though I still give all the cases a patient hearing. Sometimes, I feel I have lost the ability to trust people. I have become shrewder to avoid being conned. I think that is the price that I have to pay for the position I am in now. The greatest difficulty in having money is to teach your children its value... Bringing up children in a moneyed atmosphere is a difficult task. Even today, I think twice if I have to spend Rs 10 on an auto when I can walk to my house. I cannot expect my children to do the same. They have seen money from the time they were born. But we can lead by example. When they see Murthy wash his own plate after eating and clean the two toilets in the house every day, they realise that no work is demeaning, irrespective of how rich you are. This doesn't mean we expect our children to live an austere life. My children buy what they want, go where they want, but they have to follow certain rules. They have to show me bills for whatever they buy: My daughter can buy five new outfits, but she has to give away five old ones. My son can go out with his friends for lunch or dinner, but we discourage him from going to a five star hotel. Or we accompany him. My children haven't given me any heartbreak. My daughter is studying abroad, my son in Bangalore. They don t use their father's name in vain. They only say that his name is Murthy and that he works for Infosys. They don't want to be recognised and appreciated because of their father or me, but for themselves.
I don't feel guilty about having money, for we have worked hard for it. But I don't feel comfortable flaunting it. It is a conscious decision on our part to live a simple, so-called middle class life. We live in the same two-bedroom, sparsely furnished house we lived in before Infosys became a success. Our only extravagance is buying books and CDs. My house has no lockers for I have no jewels. I wear a pair of stone earrings which I bought in Bombay for Rs 100. I don, t even wear my `mangalsutra` unless I need to attend some family functions or when I am with my mother-in-law. Five years ago, I went to Kashi, where tradition demands that you give something up. I gave up shopping. Since then, I haveri t bought myself a sari or gone shopping. I don't carry a purse and neither does Murthy, most of the time. I borrow money from my secretary or my driver if I need cash. They know my habit, so they always carry extra cash with them. But I settle the accounts every evening. Murthy and I are very comfortable with our lifestyle and we don't see the need to change it now that we have money:
Murthy and I are two opposites that complement each other. Murthy is sensitive and romantic in his own way. He always gifts me books addressed 'From Me to You. Or'To the person I most admire, etc. We both love books. I am an extrovert and he is an introvert. I love watching movies and listening to classical music. Murthy loves listening to English classical music. I go out for movies with my students and secretary every other week. I am still young at heart. I really enjoyed watching'Kaho Na Pyaar Hai'; I am a Hrithik Roshan fan. It has been more than 20 years since Murthy and I went for a movie. My daughter once gave us a surprise by booking tickets for'Titanic'. Since I had a prior engagement that day, Murthy went for the movie with his secretary Pandu. I love travelling, whereas Murthy loves spending time at home. Friends come and go with the share prices. Even in my dreams, I did not expect Infosys to grow the way it has. After Infosys went public in 1993, we became what people would call rich, moneyed people. Suddenly, you see and hear about so much money: People talk about you. It was all new to me.
Have I lost my identity as a woman, in Murthy's shadow? No, I might be Mrs Narayana Murthy. I might be Akshata and Rohan's mother. I might be the trustee of Infosys Foundation. But I am still Sudha. Like all women, I play different roles. That doesn't mean we don't have our own identity. Women have that extra quality of adaptability and learn to fit into different shoes. But we are our own selves still. And we have to exact our freedom by making the right choices in our lives, dictated by us and not by the world.
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
Upgrade yourself from the world of coding
How does one build a successful technical career? SUBROTO BAGCHI gives you the nine key factors.
THE other day, I met a bright young engineer in MindTree and asked him what his ambition was. He was very clear. “I want to be an architect”. My next question to him was, what does he read? He looked surprised and then replied that he does not read much outside what appears on a computer screen. My next question to him was whom all does he admire in MindTree among the three best architects? He named the predictable three. Then I told him what the fundamental gap was between him and the best three. It was about the ability to make intelligent conversation about any subject under the sun — a capability borne out of serious reading habits.
The next thing I asked him to do was to poll these three on what were the six books they had read last. The result was amazing. The three named eighteen books in all — of which at least six were common. Ninety percent of the books had nothing to do with information technology. The exercise proves a key point — to be a great nerd, one has to have interests outside writing code. However, many engineers think that the path to a great technical career is about technical skills alone.
Long back, Bell Labs conducted an interesting study - closely watching the common characteristics among a group of technical professionals who rose to the top. The exercise revealed nine key factors outside just technical competence that differentiated brilliant technical folks from the masses. The study was conducted by Robert Kelly of Carnegie Mellon and Janet Caplan of Williams College. As I see the Indian industry today, I think the study done at Bell Labs remains relevant in every detail.
The Bell Labs engineers who did extremely well for themselves - as they progressed in their career, showed the following qualities that differentiated them from their peers: taking initiative, cognitive ability, networking, leadership, teamwork, followership, perspective, organisation savvy and show-and-tell capability. Let us look at each of these and see what lies underneath.
This is about accepting responsibility above and beyond your stated job. It is about volunteering for additional activities and promoting new ideas. None of these will jump out as apparent as a young engineer gets in to her first job. She will tend to think that her career progress is really dependent only on the ability to write code. The concept of initiative begins by looking for technical and other opportunities in the organisation and volunteering for them. The idea of volunteering is little understood — both by organisations and individuals. In the days to come, it will gain increasing prominence in our professional lives.
Initiative is also about two other things — dealing constructively with criticism and planning for the future. The latter is a function of many things — a good starting point is to start mapping the environment, learning to understand how the future is unfolding and then stepping back to ask, how am I preparing myself?
The concept of cognitive development is about understanding the interplay of technology and trends in how they are getting deployed. It is also about recognising the business eco-system in which technology works. It is about situational understanding and consequence thinking. The importance of consequence thinking is very critical. It asks us to look beyond the immediate deliverable of a task and it is about asking who will be impacted by my work, what is the end state? People in our industry just think in terms of modules and seldom ask where is it going, who is my customer and more importantly - who is my customer’s customer? Cognition is a key faculty that determines how much we are able to read patterns, make sense of things. Refining cognitive skills helps us to go beyond stated needs of our customers to explore unstated needs.
We tend to think of networking in a social sense. As one grows higher in life, we are often as powerful as is our network. Building a professional network requires us to step out of the comfort zone to look at whom can I learn from. Quite often, and more as one progresses in life, the learning has to come from unusual sources. At MindTree, we expose our people to social workers, architects, graphic designers, teachers, people who lead government organisations, leaders from client organisations. The interesting thing about benefiting from a network is that it works like a savings bank. I need to deposit in to it before I withdraw. We all have heard about how important internal and external knowledge communities are. Again, in MindTree, we encourage people to belong to 26 different knowledge communities that run on a non-project based agenda and are vehicles of learning. These create networking opportunities and open many doors.
Next to networking is development of leadership skills. Many technical people associate it with “management” and shy away from developing key leadership skills like communication, negotiation, influencing, inter-personal skills, business knowledge, building spokespersonship and so on. Take for instance negotiating as a skill. Imagine that you are an individual professional contributor. Why should you learn to negotiate? Tomorrow, your organisation becomes member of a standard body and you have to represent the organisation as a technical expert. You will find yourself needing to negotiate with powerful lobbies that represent a competing viewpoint or a rival standard. Unless you have honed your capability alongside your hacking skills, you will be at a complete loss. Yet, you do not discover your negotiating capability one fine morning. You need to work on it from an early stage. Negotiating for internal resources is becoming another critical need. You can choose to remain an individual professional contributor but from time to time, you have to create mind share in the organisation where resources are limited and claimants are many. Establishing thought leadership is another key requirement of growth and independent of whether I want to be a technical person or grow to be a manager, I need to develop as a leader who can influence others.
Our educational system does not teach us teamwork. If you ever tried to solve your test paper “collaboratively” - it was called copying. You and I spent all our school and college life fiercely competing to get the engineering school and seat of our choice. Then comes the workplace and you suddenly realise that it is not individual brilliance but collective competence that determines excellence. Collaboration is the most important part of our work life. Along with collaboration come issues of forming, norming, storming, performing stages of team life. Capability to create interdependencies, capability to encourage dialogue and dissension, knowledge sharing become critical to professional existence. All this is anti-thesis of what we learn in the formative years of life. Add to it, our social upbringing - our resource-starved system tells us to find ways and means to ensure self-preservation ahead of teamwork. In Japan, the country comes first, the company (read team) comes next and I come last. In India, it is the other way round.
The best leaders are also great followers. We can be great leaders if we learn and imbibe the values of followership. Everywhere you go - there are courses that teach leadership. Nowhere you will find a business school teaching you followership. Yet, when solving complex problems in life, we have to embrace what is called “situational leadership”. I have to be comfortable being led by others, I must learn to trust leadership. Many people have issues reporting to a test lead as a developer, or being led by a business analyst or a user interface designer. In different parts of a project life cycle, people of varied competence must lead. I must be comfortable when some one else is under the strobe light. I must have the greatness to be led by people younger than I, people with a different background or a point of view. That is how I learn.
This is the hardest to explain. It begins with appreciating why I am doing what I am doing. Quite often, I find people having a very narrow view of their tasks; many do not see the criticality of their task vis-à-vis a larger goal. So, a tester in a project sees his job as testing code or a module designer's worldview begins and ends with the module. He does not appreciate the importance of writing meaningful documentation because he thinks it is not his job or does not realise that five years from now, another person will have to maintain it.
I always tell people about the story of two people who were laying bricks. A passer by asked the first one as to what he was doing. He replied, “I am laying bricks”.
He asked the second one. He replied, “I am building a temple”. This story explains what perspective is and how the resultant attitude and approach to work can be vastly different.
As technical people grow up, they often feel unconnected to the larger organisation. Some people develop a knack of exploring it, finding spots of influence, tracking changes, creating networks and in the process they learn how to make the organization work for them. The organisation is not outside of me. If I know it well, I can get it to work for me when I want. Think of the difference between one project manager and another or one technical lead from another.
One person always gets the resources she needs - the other one struggles. One person knows who is getting freed from which client engagement and ahead of time blocks the person. One person reacts to an organisational change and finds himself allocated to a new project as a fait accompli - another person is able to be there ahead of the opportunity. Larger the organisation, higher is the need to develop organisation savvy. It begins with questioning ones knowledge about the larger business dynamic, knowing who does what, tracking the work of other groups, knowing leaders outside of my own sphere and a host of other things. Importantly, it is also about tracking what the competitors of the organization are doing and keeping abreast of directional changes.
Show and tell
This is the bane of most Indian software engineers. We all come from a mindset that says; if you know how to write code, why bother about honing communication skills? Recently, we asked a cross section of international clients on what they think is the number one area of improvement for Indian engineers? They replied in unison, it is communication. Show and tell is about oral and written communication. Some engineers look down upon the need for communication skills and associate it with people who make up for poor programming prowess. It is the greatest misconception. Think of the best chief technology officers of companies like Microsoft, Oracle, IBM Global Services or Sun. Their number one job is evangelizing.
If they cannot forcefully present their technologies, nothing else will matter. So, every engineer must pay attention to improving the ability to present in front of people, develop the ability to ask questions and handle objections. In a sense, if you cannot sell the technology you create, it has no value. So, building salespersonship is a key requirement for technical excellence.
The foregoing points are not relevant if you have already filed your first patent at the age of eighteen. Everyone else, please take note.
The author is the co-founder and Chief Operating Officer, MindTree Consulting.
Sunday, June 25, 2006
The Lion & Gazelle
"Every morning in Africa, a gazelle awakens. He has only one thought on his mind: To be able to run faster than the fastest lion. If he cannot, then he will be eaten.
Every morning in Africa a lion awakens. He has only one thought on his mind: To be able to run faster than the slowest gazelle. If he cannot, he will die of hunger.
Whether you choose to be a gazelle or a lion is of no consequence. It is enough to know that with the rising of the sun, you must run. And you must run faster than you did yesterday or you will die.This is the race of life."
- African Proverb
The Flash Mind Reader
The Flash Mind Reader by Andy Naughton is amazing. All you have to do is to choose any two digit number, add together both digits and subtract the total from your original number. Once you get that number, look at the chart and find the symbol against that number. Then click on the crystal ball and it will show you the same symbol that you found in the chart.
Here is the link for the Flash Mind Reader. Just try it out.
Flash Mind Reader by Andy Naughton
Tuesday, June 06, 2006
Go Kiss the World
Go Kiss the World(August 15, 2004 – Indian Express)
I was the last child of a small-time government servant, in a family of five brothers. My earliest memory of my father is as that of a District Employment Officer in Koraput, Orissa. It was and remains as back of beyond as you can imagine. There was no electricity; no primary school nearby and water did not flow out of a tap. As a result, I did not go to school until the age of eight; I was home-schooled. My father used to get transferred every year. The family belongings fit into the back of a jeep - so the family moved from place to place and, without any trouble, my Mother would set up an establishment and get us going. Raised by a widow who had come as a refugee from the then East Bengal, she was a matriculate when she married my Father. My parents set the foundation of my life and the value system which makes me what I am today and largely defines what success means to me today.
As District Employment Officer, my father was given a jeep by the government. There was no garage in the Office, so the jeep was parked in our house. My father refused to use it to commute to the office. He told us that the jeep is an expensive resource given by the government – he reiterated to us that it was not 'his jeep' but the government's jeep. Insisting that he would use it only to tour the interiors, he would walk to his office on normal days. He also made sure that we never sat in the government jeep - we could sit in it only when it was stationary. That was our early childhood lesson in governance - a lesson that corporate managers learn the hard way, some never do.
The driver of the jeep was treated with respect due to any other member of my Father's office. As small children, we were taught not to call him by his name. We had to use the suffix 'dada' whenever we were to refer to him in public or private. When I grew up to own a car and a driver by the name of Raju was appointed - I repeated the lesson to my two small daughters. They have, as a result, grown up to call Raju, 'Raju Uncle' - very different from many of their friends who refer to their family drivers as 'my driver'. When I hear that term from a school- or college-going person, I cringe. To me, the lesson was significant - you treat small people with more respect than how you treat big people. It is more important to respect your subordinates than your superiors.
Our day used to start with the family huddling around my Mother's chulha – an earthen fire place she would build at each place of posting where she would cook for the family. There was no gas, nor electrical stoves. The morning routine started with tea. As the brew was served, Father would ask us to read aloud the editorial page of The Statesman's 'muffosil' edition - delivered one day late. We did not understand much of what we were reading. But the ritual was meant for us to know that the world was larger than Koraput district and the English I speak today, despite having studied in an Oriya medium school, has to do with that routine. After reading the newspaper aloud, we were told to fold it neatly. Father taught us a simple lesson. He used to say, "You should leave your newspaper and your toilet, the way you expect to find it". That lesson was about showing consideration to others. Business begins and ends with that simple precept.
Being small children, we were always enamored with advertisements in the newspaper for transistor radios - we did not have one. We saw other people having radios in their homes and each time there was an advertisement of Philips, Murphy or Bush radios, we would ask Father when we could get one. Each time, my Father would reply that we did not need one because he already had five radios - alluding to his five sons. We also did not have a house of our own and would occasionally ask Father as to when, like others, we would live in our own house. He would give a similar reply, "We do not need a house of our own. I already own five houses". His replies did not gladden our hearts in that instant. Nonetheless, we learnt that it is important not to measure personal success and sense of well being through material possessions.
Government houses seldom came with fences. Mother and I collected twigs and built a small fence. After lunch, my Mother would never sleep. She would take her kitchen utensils and with those she and I would dig the rocky, white ant infested surrounding. We planted flowering bushes. The white ants destroyed them. My mother brought ash from her chulha and mixed it in the earth and we planted the seedlings all over again. This time, they bloomed. At that time, my father's transfer order came. A few neighbors told my mother why she was taking so much pain to beautify a government house, why she was planting seeds that would only benefit the next occupant. My mother replied that it did not matter to her that she would not see the flowers in full bloom. She said, "I have to create a bloom in a desert and whenever I am given a new place, I must leave it more beautiful than what I had inherited". That was my first lesson in success. It is not about what you create for yourself, it is what you leave behind that defines success.
My mother began developing a cataract in her eyes when I was very small. At that time, the eldest among my brothers got a teaching job at the University in Bhubaneswar and had to prepare for the civil services examination. So, it was decided that my Mother would move to cook for him and, as her appendage, I had to move too. For the first time in my life, I saw electricity in homes and water coming out of a tap. It was around 1965 and the country was going to war with Pakistan. My mother was having problems reading and in any case, being Bengali, she did not know the Oriya script. So, in addition to my daily chores, my job was to read her the local newspaper - end to end. That created in me a sense of connectedness with a larger world. I began taking interest in many different things. While reading out news about the war, I felt that I was fighting the war myself. She and I discussed the daily news and built a bond with the largeruniverse. In it, we became part of a larger reality. Till date, I measure my success in terms of that sense of larger connectedness.
Meanwhile, the war raged and India was fighting on both fronts. Lal Bahadur Shastri, the then Prime Minster, coined the term "Jai Jawan, Jai Kishan" and galvanized the nation in to patriotic fervor. Other than reading out the newspaper to my mother, I had no clue about how I could be part of the action. So, after reading her the newspaper, every day I would land up near the University's water tank, which served the community. I would spend hours under it, imagining that there could be spies who would come to poison the water and I had to watch for them. I would daydream about catching one and how the next day, I would be featured in the newspaper. Unfortunately for me, the spies at war ignored the sleepy town of Bhubaneswar and I never got a chance to catch one in action. Yet, that act unlocked my imagination. Imagination is everything. If we can imagine a future, we can create it, if we can create that future, others will live in it. That is the essence of success.
Over the next few years, my mother's eyesight dimmed but in me she created a larger vision, a vision with which I continue to see the world and, I sense, through my eyes, she was seeing too. As the next few years unfolded, her vision deteriorated and she was operated for cataract. I remember, when she returned after her operation and she saw my face clearly for the first time, she was astonished. She said, "Oh my God, I did not know you were so fair". I remain mighty pleased with that adulation even till date. Within weeks of getting her sight back, she developed a corneal ulcer and, overnight, became blind in both eyes. That was 1969. She died in 2002. In all those 32 years of living with blindness, she never complained about her fate even once. Curious to know what she saw with blind eyes, I asked her once if she sees darkness. She replied, "No, I do not see darkness. I only see light even with my eyes closed". Until she was eighty years of age, she did her morning yoga everyday, swept her own room and washed her own clothes. To me, success is about the sense of independence; it is about not seeing the world but seeing the light.
Over the many intervening years, I grew up, studied, joined the industry and began to carve my life's own journey. I began my life as a clerk in a government office, went on to become a Management Trainee with the DCM group and eventually found my life's calling with the IT industry when fourth generation computers came to India in 1981. Life took me places - I worked with outstanding people, challenging assignments and traveled all over the world. In 1992, while I was posted in the US, I learnt that my father, living a retired life with my eldest brother, had suffered a third degree burn injury and was admitted in the Safderjung Hospital in Delhi. I flew back to attend to him - he remained for a few days in critical stage, bandaged from neck to toe. The Safderjung Hospital is a cockroach infested, dirty, inhuman place. The overworked, under-resourced sisters in the burn ward are both victims and perpetrators of dehumanized life at its worst. One morning, while attending to my Father, I realized that the blood bottle was empty and fearing that air would go into his vein, I asked the attending nurse to change it. She bluntly told me to do it myself. In that horrible theater of death, I was in pain and frustration and anger. Finally when she relented and came, my Father opened his eyes and murmured to her, "Why have you not gone home yet?" Here was a man on his deathbed but more concerned about the overworked nurse than his own state. I was stunned at his stoic self. There I learnt that there is no limit to how concerned you can be for another human being and what is the limit of inclusion you can create. My father died the next day.
He was a man whose success was defined by his principles, his frugality, his universalism and his sense of inclusion. Above all, he taught me that success is your ability to rise above your discomfort, whatever may be your current state. You can, if you want, raise your consciousness above your immediate surroundings. Success is not about building material comforts - the transistor that he never could buy or the house that he never owned. His success was about the legacy he left, the memetic continuity of his ideals that grew beyond the smallness of a ill-paid, unrecognized government servant's world.
My father was a fervent believer in the British Raj. He sincerely doubted the capability of the post-independence Indian political parties to govern the country. To him, the lowering of the Union Jack was a sad event. My Mother was the exact opposite. When Subhash Bose quit the Indian National Congress and came to Dacca, my mother, then a schoolgirl, garlanded him. She learnt to spin khadi and joined an underground movement that trained her in using daggers and swords. Consequently, our household saw diversity in the political outlook of the two. On major issues concerning the world, the Old Man and the Old Lady had differing opinions. In them, we learnt the power of disagreements, of dialogue and the essence of living with diversity in thinking. Success is not about the ability to create a definitive dogmatic end state; it is about the unfolding of thoughtprocesses, of dialogue and continuum.
Two years back, at the age of eighty-two, Mother had a paralytic stroke and was lying in a government hospital in Bhubaneswar. I flew down from the US where I was serving my second stint, to see her. I spent two weeks with her in the hospital as she remained in a paralytic state. She was neither getting better nor moving on. Eventually I had to return to work. While leaving her behind, I kissed her face. In that paralytic state and a garbled voice, she said, "Why are you kissing me, go kiss the world." Her river was nearing its journey, at the confluence of life and death, this woman who came to India as a refugee, raised by a widowed Mother, no more educated than high school, married to an anonymous government servant whose last salary was Rupees Three Hundred, robbed of her eyesight by fate and crowned by adversity - was telling me to go and kiss the world!
Success to me is about Vision. It is the ability to rise above the immediacy of pain. It is about imagination. It is about sensitivity to small people. It is about building inclusion. It is about connectedness to a larger world existence. It is about personal tenacity. It is about giving back more to life than you take out of it. It is about creating extra-ordinary success with ordinary lives.
Thank you very much; I wish you good luck and Godspeed. Go, kiss the world.