I was four when my mom’s dad, my grandfather passed away. A rich businessman, he left behind his wife with 6 children, a home and a pharmaceutical business on my granny’s shoulder. As a child I recall hearing rumblings and murmurs as I dashed across living rooms from adults who were discussing how with granddad’s death, the company was facing mighty issues. Words like “Loans”, “Debit”, “Debts”, “Factory”, “Production”, “No Orders”, “Bottle fights amongst employees”, winged and buzzed around my little head.
Soon, I found myself tagging along with my uncle, who was just five years older than me, on a “new game” he said we had to play. The game consisted of going from door to door, ringing the doorbell of a stranger’s house in the neighbourhood (he was unusually gracious in permitting me to reach up to the doorbell switch and press it each time), and waiting for the door to open (I remember wondering for the first couple of times if he would wait till the last minute and then make us dash away to prevent us from being caught by an irate neighbour! We had played a few dare-devil games like that before! :)) When the door opened, I was further surprised to watch my uncle put on his best smile and hold out a bottle of phenol, (which we were used to pronouncing as phenoil) and extol the greatness of the white liquid for mopping floors. After watching and absorbing his performance, I turned around and watched the neighbour’s face, waiting for any moment where we may have had to make the super dash to the gate. But, I was surprised to see a smile come over the face and a kind hand extending to take the bottle and a few coins got exchanged with my uncle for it! Pocketing the coins, we went next door to repeat the performance. I watched him a few more times and then begged him to let me perform, emboldened, as I was, that this new game did not irritate elders and what’s more it brought in a few coins and what with the corner tuck shop having some new sweets on display, I thought I could add a few feathers to my cap as well. My uncle, again too graciously, let me do the honours. It was thrilling to let go of all inhibitions and perform the game of “exchanging a bottle for a few coins” by rattling off a script of a make-believe game using the word “phenoil”, oh and all the while smiling, (as, if I forgot, I had my uncle dig into my ribs and bare his teeth at me to let me know that I had to smile!) We got back home laden with coins and what registered was the smile my otherwise serious granny gave us on noting our collection. Later I came to know how she had quickly worked to get the factory stand up and get to work again and that we had shown her that her idea of bringing it around in small steps with sale of household product “phenoil” proved correct! Never-say-die, she taught me. Early lessons at Sales with a Smile I would never forget…
My next inspiration were my parents. I must have been six and after spending the whole evening playing with friends, I returned exhausted and happy only to have the world crash around me. It was nine o’clock in the night and I had forgotten to finish a school assignment of sticking pictures of birds in my book. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I still shudder to think of my teacher who could send the chill wave up any child’s spine with her dexterity with a wooden scale that seemed to keep rotating forever in her hands making our head go dizzy! Ran to my dad, I did, and bawled my heart out. He calmly declared that every problem had a solution and got up to put on his outdoor attire. I shrieked that I had no picture of birds at home and that all shops would be closed by now. He looked me in the eye and told me that every problem had a solution. Transfixed, I followed him. We took a long walk and he kept telling me about the stars we could see on the sky. Sleepily thinking that any way, this was my last day on earth, I listened fascinated while I tried to keep up with his long steps, fighting to keep my eyes open. We reached a restaurant that served chicken to its clients. The restaurant was closed. I wondered, “Now what?!” He stooped down to pick up a few things from the road. To my astonishment, I found that he was picking up chicken feathers which were carelessly strewn on the street, and it struck me through my sleepiness, “Ah! Yes! I have seen these feathers whenever I passed by the restaurant with my friends during our playtime.” Distraught as I was, I thought he was being mean and wasting time. I was even more surprised to watch him turn around to go home after picking a few feathers. When I asked him what was happening, he declared, calmly as always, that we would create a bird with the feathers. The new adventure struck me with a bolt. Even though, my practical mind came up with umpteen excuses with how the teacher may find it not to her expectations, maybe because it was a starry night, or maybe it was the gentleness of my dad’s voice and thoughts…I got excited and looked forward to making the bird with him. I remember him starting to stick the feathers on to a bird that he got me to draw. Then, I fell asleep on his strong arms even before the last feather got tucked in neatly. It would take a few more pages to describe how the morning got the fresh fears of an unreasonable teacher and how I ensured I submitted my workbook at the very end of the session with my heart jumping out through the loud din of rushing blood in my ears! Once I submitted my work, I forgot all about it and was off to play, till the next week when we got our books back. The teacher had passed over my little chicken without a murmur! I remember thinking that it was useful having my dad around! But even without my knowing, the seed that got planted within was that every problem did have a solution.
On another day, around the time I was nine, I dreaded the meeting my class teacher had called for with my mom as I had gotten rather troublesome over a few classmates being unfair. As I fidgeted and waited for my mom to arrive, I saw her sailing in, in one of her best attires. Distracted with how graceful she looked, I remember looking up to my teacher and wondering when the axe would fall. The grinding of the axe started and the teacher ground and she ground – a bit at a time… I then waited for my mom to finish the grinding, but to my surprise, I heard her laugh with a tinkle in her voice and she mesmerised the teacher the next few seconds with tales of how I should have actually been wronged by my friends in some ways, as at home I was the epitome of fairness with my siblings and cousins. It wasn’t just her words, I remember. It was the way she cocked her head, the way her eyes shone through, the essence of her voice and of course the stories she made her speech to be filled with instead of some defensive opinionated words…I pulled my eyes away from my mom to dare to look at my teacher. I remember thinking that she must have hurried in the morning as her lipstick was not perfectly sitting on her lips. But more mesmerising was the softening of her voice and I knew by then that my mom had charmed her way into my teacher’s heart! In the place of burying me, I was let off with a gentle warning of not taking law into my hands and to go to the teacher next time I got into a fight with my friends. I never did carry tales even after that though and preferred settling scores directly with people who were unfair. :). But I picked up the skills of presentation from this graceful lady who has always inspired me with her courage and grace to this day. I learnt that even the toughest issues when presented with grace brought down the intensity of any discord to a great degree.
Coming to times at the moment, after many more lessons from many more people on the tricks to keep Humpty Dumpty from falling, I was prone again to a great fall recently, when a large corporate office did not honour the purchase order they had finished preparing. We had tirelessly worked for over four months in preparing a beautiful proposal and answering all queries from this client. When I was told that the purchase order was finally coming through, I started focussing on getting teams together for the big event as it was a very big project for us and I needed all hands on deck. Since the project also proved to spread over six to eight months, I decided to keep down the count of new projects as my resources would just be sufficient to manage this one through well. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall all of a sudden when after extended days of unusual silence, the clients informed us that the project would not come through as there was a change in the head of the organisation and therefore all new contracts were getting temporarily shelved! It was a blow unparalleled and one that made our mentor Murali request me to talk to his friend, Prasanna Oke, a finance head. Prasanna put up with the long rant of a visionary with a lot of grace and finally made a gentle remark that has seared through my brain forever. The very next day I called my teams and taught them all the new maxim for Humpty Dumpty that I had learnt and was amazed to see how each member of my team picked up the essence and started thinking along the right direction for each of their directions. I told them that I had learnt that it was never wise to make the top client take up more than 20 per cent of the share of revenue to an enterprise! In my case the client who drew back his purchase order had promised to take up a lion’s share of our revenue of nearly 40 per cent! What an insight to learn and share with our teams! And so we spent time together thinking up more offerings and calling up more potential clients to rev up the number of projects we would handle ensuring that at no point would we have a fat client who would topple us down mercilessly simply because we were trusting enough to offer him a big bench in our midst. Thank you Prasanna! :).The journey in social enterprise has taken a new meaning with this insight! Thank you Murali, for constantly looking out for us and directing us towards the right path! Another day, in another blog, I shall recount the number of ways Murali has exclusively fished me like a ragged doll out of many a turbulent water whirl.
It will be a pleasure to bring to you dear reader more accounts of our adventure in creating enterprises that serve the society and environment. Do share your thoughts and experiences as well. Our teams are all geared to absorb all good things and show the world that all enterprises around the world should actually only be social or environmental in nature. Commerce without a conscience and a heart can kill the planet in slow and fast measures. Long live the green Humpty Dumpty!