Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Ode to a Guru

By early 1997, I had spent just under two years in the corporate sector, but these were enough to kindle in me several questions about whether this was really the ladder I wished to climb. A personal situation back home (in Patna) also catalyzed the existential questions, which were by now churning furiously in my 26-year old being. It was in these times that a friend recommended Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People to me. Though I'd always been fond of reading, and had a decent collection of books by them, the self-help kinds did not find a place in my library. So I took up 7 Habits reluctantly to begin with, but within a few pages, was marveling at the resonance I found with what I was going through.

The book helped me enormously during that fragile phase of life. I read and re-read the book, reflected upon it for hours, discussed the ideas contained in it with a few friends. This was a phase of intense introspection for me. Covey's book helped me tide over this phase - and bring some clarity into my soul. For the next few years, I kept going back to the book - often referring to it as my personal Bible. The beauty of the book was not just in what it contained, but in the way it had been written. The amazing simplicity with which Covey manages to convey such blockbuster ideas as "the Circle of Concern vs. Circle of Influence" is seldom found in management books.

Though written in the pre-internet era (first published in 1989), the ideas in the book are as relevant today (perhaps more) as they were then. Over the years, I've referred the book to a large number of people, particularly to youngsters in their early 20's who are so often unsure of how to wade through the maze of life. Following Covey's advice can certainly help them make sense of it all, as it did for me.

Stephen Covey, RIP. 

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Dark Horse Rising: Talha's Success Story

What image springs in your mind when you hear the word “success”? It is more likely than not that the picture will be that of a person who has achieved something huge in life. Perhaps, he or she is a popular actor; a businessman in a suit; a young doctor; a sportsperson holding a trophy high in the air. We’re accustomed to seeing success in such large-scale terms that our imagination will brook no lesser a vision.

And yet, success doesn’t always have to be so grandiose. The dictionary defines the word as “the favourable ending of an aim”. Success can, therefore, mean opening a jar of pickle after a struggle with the stubborn lid for ten minutes just as it can denote winning a 200 metre race. But the success stories we remember, no matter how localised and small-scale they are, will always be the ones that inspire us and make us feel.

Such is the story of Talha, a twenty-five year old student pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Commerce from J. V. Jain College, Saharanpur. In 2009, tragedy befell his family of fourteen. One of his brothers, who was studying in Haryana, eloped with a Hindu girl. The retaliation from the girl’s family was vicious and violent; Talha and his family were jailed, and the male members beaten by the police. This unfortunate incident left such a horrifying impression on the twenty-two year old’s mind that he withdrew into a shell, unable to socialise with ease.

When Talha saw Agrasar’s ad on his college walls, he decided he could do with a training in basic IT. Still an introvert, he was a mystery to his teachers and classmates. “He wouldn’t answer any of my questions or face me,” remembers Shailly, who interviewed him on the day he applied. “He looked as if he was lost in his own world.” In spite of their many attempts at making an intervention, Talha remained shut off from everybody around him.

It would take three more weeks after the first day of the IT course for anybody even heard Talha’s voice. Kiran, the course facilitator, was helping her students when a voice called out, “Ma’am!”  She wondered who it belonged too, and when she did find out, it was the last person she’d have expected it to be. Talha was facing her, hand raised for his query.

Speaking up in the classroom isn’t a feat for most of us, but for this young man, it was a giant leap. After two years of refusing to reach out, he was making an effort. What had happened? Talha had finally realised that he was a person separate from the misfortunes of his past, that others were willing to see him as who he was. The revelation caused him to start living, not just exist; he took the initiative to let his voice be heard.

Since that day, Talha has been gradually unfolding, gathering the self-confidence that had been completely lacking. These days, he talks, laughs, listens to spiritual music and watches cricket with his buddies. When asked what he wants to do with his life, he says, “My goal is to have a decent job someday, and with that, I’ll make my mother proud and keep her happy.”

Talha’s success will not make it to newspaper headlines. However, it will be treasured by those who know him and respect him for his strength, and hopefully, by you.