(Khaleej Times column dated 23 August, 2022)
Last week I woke up to a Shamaal outside that had blotted out everything outside my window. This was also accompanied by the news of the demise of India’s ‘Big Bull’, Rakesh Jhunjhunwala. The news rattled me, and initially it wasn’t clear why. I had seen his happy demeanour many times on business channels, ladling out advice, exuding such confidence and foresight that he seemed almost invincible in his territory.
Despite being plagued by multiple health issues about which he only briefly referred to in his interviews, he came across as an immortal to me. And his sudden departure shattered all the perceptions I had about this man. Successful. Unshakable. Ingenious. Above all, indomitable. He too had succumbed to the whims of time, after all, giving up all that he had so assiduously gathered in his life. It was this realization that probably niggled at my heart and made the news hard to digest. But I quickly recalibrated my thoughts and deliberated upon what a remarkable life this man had led. The more I thought about his exemplary attitude to life and the way in which he had left a mark, my sadness abated to a serenity that put things in perspective.
It is not how long a man has lived, but in what way he has spent those years that count.
It is not what he accrues for himself, but what he leaves for others that determine his worth.
It is not the acclaim he adds but the mark he leaves on the wall that makes him memorable.
It is not the deeds he indulges in during his tenure, but the difference those deeds make on others’ lives that makes him a legend in his own right.
Making a difference – it has been my ambition in life ever since I realized the futility of mindless ‘fetching’. If I am on this planet for a reason, then I must do my bit to shift things by at least a fraction of a needle point. It took a long while for me to determine in what ways I could achieve this goal.
I was greatly inspired by people who took up incredible causes and put skin in the game to bring changes around them. I was awed by the colossal levels of altruism people exhibited to share their lives’ spoils with others. There were social crusaders all around me, torch-bearers who led mankind to a better future, but none of it seemed achievable within my modest means.
The only mentionable skill I had at that time was to knit stories with my word wool, but that, in a moment of epiphany, revealed to me my life purpose. I could provide warmth to beleaguered lives with my writing - creating blankets and sweaters, socks and mittens, scarves and caps. I could make a difference with the tools that were at my disposal. I could touch lives with my available capabilities. I really needn’t have great wherewithal to contribute to the wellness of the world.
It was a monumental revelation that altered the way I assessed my diurnal activities. Small things done with the intention of ‘adding value’ and ‘making a difference’ began to assume noteworthy aspect, their consequences appearing larger than what it seemed to convey. What might have been insignificant to the common eye could bring about a teeny-weeny transformation in somebody’s life. It didn’t matter if the beneficiary was an immediate kin or a remote acquaintance. What mattered was whether my life and thereby my presence was having a positive impact on other people.
A friend who quit his high-flying corporate job in Dubai is now running an NGO in India, chipping in every ounce of his resources towards providing quality education to the under-privileged. His commitment towards the cause inspires me. A close kin is pulling out all stops to staunch the wounds of a bleeding planet with her sustainability programs. I am in awe of her passion and pursuit. But I am also convinced that not all people can be part of large movements that can turn the world around and save it from the rot it is currently spiralling towards.
What we can do, as laypeople, is make sure that we bring a positive difference in whatever roles we play in our lives. In our relationships, in our profession, in our regular work and interactions. We need not have fabulous credentials. All we need is a heart that is willing to invest itself for the goodness of the world, through deeds big or small. There is no need to bring tectonic shifts; a simple but compelling nudge is enough to alter the course of one or one thousand lives, and to find fulfilment in our own.