Let me begin by asking you a question, which may sound a little out of place. How many of you think you are successful? How many of you think you are happy? Now how many of you think you are both successful and happy?
Perhaps success and happiness may not always be the two sides of the same coin….
Today I would like to tell you a story of the indomitable spirit of a man; a story, which taught me the true meaning of success and happiness….the story, helped me to build the fundamentals of my life.
It was during the days after the painful partition after the independence of India. The partition forced a mass exodus of people from both sides of the borders. The lives of many changed overnight. Many people who had a peaceful and decent living were forced to leave their homes and belongings to an unknown land, just for the fear of being persecuted. The desire and design of the wily politics drove them from being a victor to a victim… from a life of abundance and happiness to mere survival in penury and suffering….just within a matter of days!
All they could salvage was their lives. Yes, their life.…. that was the single thread on which they had to weave their future and their dreams all over again.
Assumal Kalwani was just 10 years old when his father carried him on his shoulder and walked along with the millions who crossed to over to India from Sindh Province, which had become a part of Pakistan. It was long journey, some distance by foot, some by bullock cart and some by train. Many died of disease and many others due to the ethnic violence between two sections of maddening mobs.
Fortunately, Assu and his parents survived the arduous journey and arrived in Rajasthan. The life in a refugee camp was miserable. The suffering grew worse with the advent of winter and the breakout of epidemic.
Seeing a bleak future for himself and his family, Assu’s father decided to embark yet another journey, hoping to secure the future of his family. They moved to Haldwani in Uttar Pradesh (now Uttarakhand).
Assumal’s father who owned a large expanse of cultivable land had make his beginning of a new life by working as agricultural laborer. He was trying to build their lives back…bit by bit, piece by piece. He had kids but could not afford to educate all of them. Assu’s elder brother stopped studies and started helping his father on the farm. However, they soon learnt that even both their earnings together would not suffice to feed the family and take care of their ever-increasing needs. His elder brother decided to branch out and move southwards to join his Uncle and seek a living. He moved to Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh, the “City of destiny” as it is called.
Assu had to also discontinue his education during high school and seek work to support the family. He managed to secure a job as a Pump Operator in the Agricultural Department. His job was to operate the pumps of tube wells and augment water to the crops in the region. He toiled from dawn to dusk. He worked with utmost sincerity. He learnt to repair and overhaul the pumps himself, just to ensure that the crops and farmers do not suffer due to lack of water for irrigation. He toiled for ten long years only to realize that his career as an Operator is only helping him survive but not live a life.
He decided to move to distant Visakhapatnam and join his elder brother, who in the meanwhile had set up a textile shop. He learnt tailoring and helped his brother tailor work clothes and supply them to the growing industries in the area.
After a few years, he felt it is time to move on and start an enterprise of his own.
He invested all his savings to open a grocery shop. He toiled day and night to build the enterprise. He used to open the shop by 7 AM and work until noon. In the afternoon, he used to go to the wholesale market to fetch all his supplies. He would arrange all that all brought in the shop and open it for the customers by the evening. He kept the shop open and served his customers up to 10 PM. This was his routine for several decades. There was not a single day, when his clients would find his shop closed. His genial disposition and courteous nature attracted and helped to retain his clientele. He used his creativity and imagination to stock every item that his customer might need, so that they would never need to go to another shop for their supplies. He used innovative ways to retain his customers. Since most of them were industrial workers who received monthly salary, he offered his groceries and ware on monthly credit. His passion, commitment to his customers and sincerity to his work, brought in more and more customers.
He build the enterprise, brick by brick until it became the landmark of the area.
During the years that passed, Assu got married, was blessed with two sons and a daughter. He doted over his kids, provided them with good care and education.
He not only sold his wares for his own livelihood but also believed in sharing his knowledge and experience. He offered a helping hand to those who needed his support, he counselled those who were in distress and imparted valuable lessons to the youngsters who came to his shop. His shop became a “hub” where people would come not just for their supplies, but also for the solace and succor that he would offer in terms of advice, suggestions and solutions and sometimes even counsel or admonishment. He would broker peace and deals for disputes related to business, family and also matters that related to the community.
Years and decades passed and Assu became one of the most prominent and respected citizens of the Area.
Today at the ripe age of 80, he has relinquished the reins of his enterprise to his elder son and set up another for his second son. Being the “chips of the old block” both his sons have carried the mantle to build on the foundations of their illustrious father.
The success story of Assu who kept chipping at the hard and tough adversities and situations like that woodpecker, who never gave up no matter how hard the bark was. His perseverance, his ability to change and innovate, his amazingly positive attitude and his indomitable spirit to fight all odds, have helped him to carve niche position in the society. A position that will remain only for him…until the last day of his life.
However, I am sure that his sons Mohan & Anil would carry the mantle of the great legacy that they have inherited from their industrious and illustrious father.
Post Script: I am truly blessed and fortunate to have received many good advice and values from Assu Uncle. When I look back in retrospect on the people from whom I have drawn inspiration and from whom I have learnt the lessons of life, he stands foremost in the list. I feel so lucky to have enjoyed the love, affection, privy and patronage of many elders and friends like him. What I am today and the values that I uphold, is a sum total of the influence of all these fabulous people in my life.