School of experience

Let me begin with a confession :  I have learnt more from my mistakes than from my successes. And if I am considered a wise person today, it is because I have made many, many mistakes with gay abandon; nay, even pride!!!

I remember early in my career I transferred into the Siemens factory on Thane Belapur road: the veritable “holy grail” of rabid unionism of Dr Samant and RJ Mehtas of the 1980s. I took an operational decision which was wrong. Resultantly the entire Maintenance department stayed away from work. Being an engineering company, this was awkward: to say the least!! To complicate things, this happened on a weekend and was discovered only on Monday, by the top brass. I had tried to patch things up by burning some midnight oil over the weekend. But the union decided to teach this rookie personnel manager a lesson, and did not co-operate. Come Monday morning, I was summoned into the German Works’ Director cabin. But what he told me that day not only surprised me, but also gave me a life long learning!!

“Shirodkar, first wipe out that serious look on your face” he thundered. “what has happened? Is there a fire? Has anyone died? Has the factory totally shut down?” When I explained the productivity and mandays lost, his only counter was ” What did you learn from this incident? What will you do different next time?” Over the next 30+ years, I was to learn that taking a decision was more important than prevaricating and remaining indecisive. My mother’s kitchen’s teachings of not crying over spilt milk and being bold while experimenting with a new dish and presenting what you cooked with elan and flourish, have stayed with me since.

One major reason is exemplified by Johnny Cash, the best selling music artist of all times, who said “ There is no fence to sit on between heaven and hell. There is a deep wide gulf, a chasm” So make a call; learn your lesson and move on: falling down the chasm does not help. Take a stand. It is how you manage the implementation and aftermath of a decision that make it right or wrong for posterity.

As drivers we have all experienced this. When you are overtaking a vehicle, and there is oncoming traffic (so you must complete your maneuver quickly before the oncoming truck/car makes it difficult to overtake),  there comes a point when you are parallel to the speeding car ahead, and the moment of truth occurs: Do I press ahead and overtake? or better i reduce my speed and try again later? While it is good to be cautious and abort overtaking if the oncoming truck is too close, you cannot go on postponing the decision to overtake. At some point you must take the leap in your mind, increase speed further and overtake. Decisiveness and action;  over doubt and rethinking. No “fence to sit on”. Just make your move.

Like all Indians, am sure you too watch a lot of cricket. With the superior camera work today, one can actually sense the resolve of a Kohli or a Dhoni when they look at a ball and smash it for a sixer. In the same manner, the unforgiving camera catches the hesitation and the doubt, in the way the bat swings, when a ball is miscued and ends in a catch, or misses the line completely and the stumps rattle behind. The teaching is ingrained in the doing: which is why Dhoni has said in an interview ” I don’t study cricket. Whatever I have learnt is through cricket I’ve played on the field”. Experience itself is the teacher par excellence.

For meself, I must say although I am a good teacher, I am a much better student. I keep my eyes and ears open to new learnings that life affords me. And a la Papa Hemingway ” I like to listen. I have learnt a lot from listening carefully. Most people never listen”. Forget not that the Maker in his infinite experience has given us 2 ears and just 1 mouth. Listen double than what you speak. Enjoy all that is happening to you. Travel. Eat unfamiliar food. Meet new people. Open yourself to new experiences. You have to create and recreate yourself constantly.  My hoary 62 years have taught me : Just when I think I have learned the way to live, life changes. And thus, the learning continues ad infinitum!! So, Live each day as it comes. Be warned of Dorothy Dix’s caution, ” It is the dark menace of the future that makes cowards of us” 

For action, I take inspiration from the most famous follower of Martin Luther King viz. Rosa Parks. She spearheaded the Montgomery Bus Boycott to protest the Bus Segregation and went on to be called “the first lady of civil rights” by the US Congress.. When questioned about her courage in refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger she said ” I have learnt that when  one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done, does away with fear”. What an prescription for facing up to life’s odds and experiences!!!

Life has a way of unfolding as it is meant to be. Remembering Papa Amrish Puri in DDLJ:   Ja Simran, jee le apni zindagi!

Trust Life. Experience fully: vikas