Pursuit of Excellence
A number of people are “doing” the work but not enjoying it. They are working either to earn their livelihood or raise their standard of living: may be they wish to wield power or to exert influence or simply to pass time. The real creative people do not work for achieving awards or honors: they are engaged in their pursuits because they derive satisfaction or get a sense of achievement or having done something useful for society. They forget about their surroundings or themselves, for they are free from obligatory or occupational concerns. People like Archimedes, Einstein, Dr. Radhakrishnan, APJ Abdul Kalam belong to this category. They feel ecstatic: they are not searching for happiness: happiness is a by-product of their work as alcohol is of the procedure of making sugar. It is not a commodity available at a supermarket: it is a bonus: it is like a butterfly: it will fly off if we try to catch it but it can come and sit on our shoulder when we are lost in our thoughts or work. We get it when we are immersed in our worthwhile tasks, stretching our minds to the limit in a voluntary effort.
Let us recall a few lines from Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
Jonathan : Is there no such place as heaven?
Chiang : No, Jonathan there is no such place. Heaven is not a place, and it is not a time. Heaven is pursuit of excellence. Excellence does not have any limits.
“I wasn’t born a rich man,
I ain’t got no pedigree.
The sweat on this old collar,
that’s my PhD.” - Bon Jovi
Excellence does not come to a person who sits in hope with arms folded: it is granted to a man who rolls up his sleeves and labors. Excellence is an individual quest whereas mediocrity is a collective refuge. I feel that it is not a crime where we stand in our pursuits but we are definitely guilty if we are not making an effort to achieve excellence. Therefore, we must harden our hands and strain our brains: no trembling, doubting or hesitating. Select a work, stick to it like a postal stamp and see it through. Electrify yourself. If we carried a task through in all its completeness and proportion, we will think better of ourselves and be truly respected by others.
“The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to his commitment to excellence regardless of his chosen field of endeavor” - Vince Lombard (Football Coach)
I feel we should condition ourselves in such a manner that like the battery of a car we should keep getting recharged while engaged in action.
Corruption Spreads its Tentacles Because We Allow it To
Corruption has entered the very vitals of the Indian system. Make an incision anywhere in the anatomy of an Indian and see the corrupt blood spurting out. It has spread like cancer. Nothing gets done without greasing the palm. Earlier it was under the table now it is all around. Take any department, Income Tax, Excise, Armed Forces, Vigilance et al. Most people prey when they get an opportunity. Through my journey of life I have interacted with thousands of people and because of my privileged position have had a chance to look at their stated incomes. If people had declared say Rs. 50,000 as their monthly income, I have joked with them that they have made a mistake of a zero on the right to which they have quietly conceded saying “Karna Padta hai”. Often I have wondered what people do with that much money: one cannot travel in 2-3 cars at the same moment, neither can one live in 3-4 houses at a time or eat bread of gold nor sleep on a sheet studded with diamonds. My conclusion, therefore, is that it is not their need but the insatiable greed which propels them to gather so much wealth. There is a limit to good, luxurious living also!
“Riches do not exhilarate us
so much with their possession
as they torment us with their loss.” - Epicurus
I think this malaise is persisting because we allow it to continue. We see our selfish interest and get the work done easily by bribing the officials. Nobody wants to stick his neck out. At least on two different occasion I have got the money refunded from the police which they had succeeded in extracting from my subordinates. On another occasion I refused to bribe the Registrar for registering a small house. When he insisted that I pay the amount else he would not hand over the papers to me, he challenged me to do anything I liked, I had to tell him, “I will hold you by your necktie and drag you to the main road and then to the Chairman”. He relented and said, “Chalo phir aapse nahin lete”.
I have never paid or taken any bribe in all my life and no work of mine has been stopped forever. There have been delays, there have been hiccups but the work was ultimately done. The truth is : it is possible to be honest, principled and yet be successful. The enemy is within. The right persons to stem the rot are ‘we’. The right place is to begin at our own backyard.
Cassius’s words in Julius Caesar, “The fault dear Brutus is not in our stars but in ourselves”, aptly describe the situation. If some men of integrity rise up to the occasion and stop bribing the officials, I am sure the atmosphere will be somewhat cleansed. If a drop of water, in the course of time, can wear out a stubborn rock, with some forthright statements of truth repeated at suitable occasions the Augene Stables can be cleaned, if not fully, the process can certainly begin. The only thing needed is these men of integrity have to have deep rooted conviction, courage and candor (3Cs) in their speech. The forces of evil can be defeated if we espouse the cause we have undertaken, properly.
One Has to Resolve Inner Conflicts
In my everyday life I have been confronted, as everybody must have been, with the dilemma of acting correctly in life. How to distinguish between a right or wrong action. How to deal with relatives, friends, colleagues, superiors or subordinates? Whether to punish the employees for their wrong doings or to forgive them after counseling? If to take punitive action then the question of quantum of punishment troubled me all through. How much freedom to give to my own children? How best to handle the situation when the spouse exceeds all limits of reasonableness? As a Principal while admitting children to school whom to give preference, the meritorious child, the paying capacity of the parents, their status in society, their level of education or sophistication? What was the fault of the talented child whose parents could not afford to pay ? To please the boss, knowing fully well that he was in the wrong, or stick one’s neck out on matters of principles? One could falter when one’s own self-interest was involved. I finally came to the conclusion that the best way to decide things was to go by one’s gut feelings, listen to one’s conscience, fully aware that our conscience is also the result of our “Sanskars” – our upbringing and the environment we grew up in. It could be very well subjective but still the best guide: it kept my mind calm when I acted as directed by my inner voice.
A child always run to his parents when he faces any difficulty or danger. We should fully realize that as mortals we are unable to maintain a balanced outlook under excessive stress: at that time we are in dire need of help: we do need to hold somebody’s hand. In such situations, having done my best, I drew solace from spirituality. I believe in a Supreme Power: whatever I could not completely handle myself I left it to that Great Power. I found it therapeutic. This helped to maintain my centeredness. Such spirituality, being an abstract concept, is not possible for everybody to grasp. These persons draw comfort from pictures or idols of gods they believe in, others in rituals, some in Satsangs etc. Whatever works for an individual is fine: what is important is that one should have a firm belief in it. It helps. “Maano to Ganga Maa hai, Na Maano to Behta Paani”. Take your pick.
However, I do feel religion, in its narrow confines of traditions and customs with judgmental dogma, estranges its followers from a sense of connection with the Supreme Power. Although fidelity to religious practices is okay, true religiosity is more profound, that one must go to the heart of things, to the depth of humanity. Our spirituality is our true essence. It is that part of our life which relates to our soul. Muslims call it by the name of Allah, Hindus, Ishwar and Sikhs, Waheguru. What is of essence is to realize that one unequivocal and unerring Supreme Power exists, whatever the nomenclature. If we realize the fundamental unity of mankind we will rise above all kinds of discrimination and baseness.
I have experienced that life takes a full circle. We laugh, laughter returns: we do good, good returns: we harm somebody, Nature strikes back: we are sincere, we are rewarded: we work hard, we meet with success: we are lazy, we meet with failure. The only thing is that we do not realize that it is happening. Nature performs things in mysterious ways. Perhaps there is a bigger cosmic plan beyond our comprehension. I am of the opinion that playing victim cannot take us anywhere: it gives us a false sense of security which brings frustration and resentment in its wake; success, never. We cannot succeed if we feel like a failure within. Walt Disney had to declare bankruptcy five times before he became successful. I do believe that we should continue to follow the path of an independent thinker. Herd-like conformity does not get us anywhere.
Build Up the Courage to be Different
Don’t be a people-pleaser: try for Self-fulfillment. Keep contributing, for as soon as we stop doing that, we begin to die.
There are people who see the world as a threatening place, and because they do, the world turns out, indeed, to be a threatening place. Through their negative magnetism they attract it because they lead life from a lower self: hence it becomes threatening. Living from the higher self makes one enthusiastic and opens up opportunities, We should speak our mind without the fear of being ridiculed, stand up and be counted even if we get knocked down a few times. Our attitude should not be, “I versus the world” rather it ought to be, “I and the world”. The important factor is that we should not waiver from our belief system. If we have the characteristics of Sattva (purity) in us we shall be able to lead our lives with unflagging inspiration, zeal, zest and dynamism. I stagnated whenever I gave in to an easy life. If I didn’t read or engage in any useful pursuit where thought and action were required, life became dull, uninteresting: thrill went out of life. Gradually I understood that we should continue renewing ourselves: it is happening in nature all the time. Trees are getting new leaves, the sun rises afresh every morning: new cells are being formed in the body. We cannot afford to get stale. All through my life I endeavored to improve myself on my current job, not the next one. I kept looking for the spark that ignited my enthusiasm and then fanned it into a flame of passion and felt fulfilled. I believe “to rest is to rust”. The onward march of life must continue. We must keep exploring new horizons. We must learn to encourage ourselves, for much of the time nobody else will.
We shall never be able to conquer new frontiers unless we go beyond what we have already achieved. Therefore, let us not be a victim of inertia or entropy. Life’s challenges are not supposed to paralyze us: they are there to help us to discover who we are. Remember at any age in life we are still a work in progress. So let us not wait for the wake up call: let us set the alarm and make the most of our lives. The following lines of Lord Alfred Tennyson’s Ulysses have constantly been inspiring me in life.
“drink life to the lees…
Keep roaming with a hungry heart….
Experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untraveled world whose margin fades forever and forever…
How dull it is to pause, to make an end, to rust un-burnished, not to shine in use…”
Therefore, let us be “strong in will”,
And continue “to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield”.