Who, Me? Indispensable??

As we work our way through life, it is very easy to fall into the trap of thinking one is indispensable. But are we? I know a friend who will go, “Vikas again you are off on your self deprecating mode. Are we all not unique? Don’t we add value in our own special way? ” For sure, we all make an impact on life, on our near and dear ones; make a difference in the organizations we are associated with, leave a legacy. So certainly we will be missed : somehow, by someone. But we need a draw a strong line, before we fool ourselves that we are indispensable.

Contrast this with today’s mindset where people feel proud when meetings are cancelled since they are not available. They take it as a signal of their importance, their need, their seminal contribution. Should not managers’ role be to make himself redundant, ensure team members are prepared with all facts & data so that no one person becomes super critical or their absence a deal breaker?? Today, mostly we hear, “this happened totally because of me” or “this could not be done because I was absent”. To me this is a sad reflection of today’s proclivity of blowing one’s own trumpet, continuously.

Again contrast this with Dwight Eisenhower — five-star General, Supreme Allied Commander, U.S. President. When Ike returned to Normandy for the 20th anniversary of D-Day & was asked to give a speech at a dinner commemorating the invasion, rather than use the occasion to wax poetic about his role in executing one of the most monumental military operations in history, this man of singular eminence instead used the opportunity to read the poem “The Indispensable Man.” quoted below.

Sometime when you’re feeling important; Sometime when your ego’s in bloom;
Sometime when you take it for granted, You’re the best qualified in the room:
Sometime when you feel that your going, Would leave an unfillable hole,
Just follow these simple instructions, And see how they humble your soul.

Take a bucket and fill it with water, Put your hand in it up to the wrist,
Pull it out and the hole that’s remaining, Is a measure of how much you’ll be missed.
You can splash all you wish when you enter, You may stir up the water galore,
But stop, and you’ll find that in no time, It looks quite the same as before….

Many times meetings are cancelled or postponed because someone is not available. “He has worked on the project; his input is critical” is the refrain! I am reminded of an RSS anecdote. As per Annual calendar, an All India Meeting was planned & all invitees intimated in advance for smooth logistics. Dattopant Thengdi, thespian Hindu idealogue, based in Bengal then, confirmed his presence. But as the meeting date came close, he informed that there was a program kept by the local Swayamsewaks & this would not happen if he was away. So he regretted the preplanned meeting. Golwalkar Guruji Sar SanghaChalak, chairing the meeting made it a point to mention,” आपण ज्या कार्यक्षेत्रात काम करतो तिथे आपल्याशिवाय कार्यक्रम, बैठक, शाखा लागणार नसेल तर तर आपल्या कार्य करण्याच्या पद्धतीत काहीतरी कमी आहे. त्रुटी आहे हे लक्षात घेतले पाहिजे” (wherever you are working, if a meeting, program cannot be completed without your personal presence, then you must understand that there is a major fault in your way of working)

Today’s populace can learn a lot about humility in public & professional life. Rather than feeling proud “I did this” or “I did that” one must find the humility in one’s heart to say मी केवळ निमित्त मात्र ( I am only an excuse, not the cause). On a practical level, if you quit your job, someone else — no matter how well you did your work — is going to be able to take your place, and the company will keep on running. On a more macro level, when you die, the world will keep on spinning; society will keep on running; people will continue to wake up, go to school, go to their jobs, eat dinner, make love, go to sleep. Nearly everything will continue functioning just as before. eg In Siemens we used to change the German MD, the German Finance Director & the German Factory Director every 3 years, one rotational change per year. So when any employee resigned, I used to tell him: this company changes its Director every year. You are not more important than the Director! We can relieve you immediately!!

As an old saying goes, “Graveyards are full of people the world could not do without.” This might all seem depressing, but actually it is rather liberating. Too many people say yes to things they don’t want to do, & stay in unhappy relationships or jobs or volunteer positions out of guilt, out of fear, out of the ultimately egoistical worry that that others will simply not be able to function without them. The world is usually not quite so indifferent to us as that, but the truth remains that it can still get along just fine without us. Take your hand out of the bucket & the water flows back in. It is a humbling check to the ego, to be sure, but a healthy, freeing one at that.

Let me end with a story from Mahabharata. After 18 days of war, the conch blew to signal an end to the war. Arjun was gratified & prideful. He believed it was only his fighting prowess that won the day for Pandavas. He stood proud and tall in his chariot surveying the battlefield. Custom had it that the Charioteer must first get down & then invite Arjun to descend. Krishna, Arjun’s Charioteer, asked him to get down first. After freeing the horses from the Chariot, Krishna himself stepped off on the ground. Within seconds Arjun’s chariot burst in flames & burnt to ashes.

Arjun asked Krishna what happened? Chracteristically, Krishna smiled & moved away. Disturbed, Arjun went to Bhishma pitamaha to seek an explanation. Bhishma explained to Arjun that during the war many astra, celestial weapons, were targeted at Arjun’s chariot. But due to Krishna’s presence on the chariot they could not harm the chariot or Arjun. As soon as Krishna stepped off the chariot, they all came back to power & burnt the chariot to ashes. That would have been Arjun’s own fate if Krishna was not with him. Arjun realized it was not his skill, but the presence of Krishna & his invisible power which had won the war for Pandavas. Just like Arjun, let us learn to thank the Krishnas in our lives, our teams, our mentors, our friends, our families for our successes.

To end, as i look back on my 67 years, Sure, I did much, but in the end, I was not so important. I quote Rahat Indori to express my feelings: vikas the explorer

लगेगी आग तो, आएँगे घर कई ज़द में
यहाँ पे सिर्फ़ हमारा मकान थोड़ी है
जो आज साहिबे मसनद हैं, कल नहीं होंगे
किराएदार हैं, ज़ाती मकान थोड़ी है
( if there is a fire, many houses will fall victim; there is not only my house here; Today one who is ascending the throne, will not be there tomorrow; He is also a tenant: not the true owner of the home)

Post Script: The idea/theme for this blog was suggested by my friend & reader Siddhesh, based on a WA post of one Suhas Vaidya. Grateful acknowledgements to both for the inspiration. Pl forgive me, Siddhesh, if my blog does not live up to your expectations.

27 Replies to “Who, Me? Indispensable??”

  1. Reminded me of this sher by Ghalib

    ‘ġhālib’-e-ḳhasta ke baġhair kaun se kaam band haiñ
    roiye zaar zaar kyā kījiye haa.e haa.e kyuuñ

    In poor Ghalib’s absence say, what tasks are stopped today
    then why shed such copious tears, why lament in vain?


  2. VS:

    I think indispensability has short term and long term dimensions.
    If a leader has conveyed an important meeting and he is unable to remain present due to some exigencies, the purpose of the meeting will not be achieved to the desired level.The leader had prepared for the meeting and his absence will be certainly felt. For that meeting, he was indispensable !!

    If he has gone from the scene for ever ( death/resignation…etc), someone else will certainly take over the role…over a period of time.Now, the earlier person can be termed “dispensable”. Like your example of pulling out of the hands from a body of water, the space is filled up .

    In my childhood, it was very normal to hear people say: “Who after Nehru” ? ‘What will happen to this country after him?’
    It is almost 60 years since his passing away!

    It is , however, not that all the time the replacement will be able to fully occupy the vacated space.

    So my take is that while it looks ‘trendy’ to say that no one is indispensable, certain qualities of a person may be missed..and missed for ever. For example, the foresight and tough diplomacy that Sardar Patel displayed in uniting the country in less than 2 years have no parallel and are still missed.

    Can anyone fill Newton’s or Einstein’s space?

    One can quote innumerable examples of this kind.

    The important message that your blog conveys is that while others may consider a person indispensable, s/he should not fall in to that trap. It will result in ego and arrogance and will be counter productive

    If a wise person has some important qualities which are crucial for the success of that position , s/he should have the generosity to prepare someone under her with those qualities.

    Thus, the qualities can become indispensable but not the person.

    I believe this is the essence of succession planning!


    1. JLS
      thanks for your comments. Indeed the short term and long term dimensions of any situation are worth thinking over.
      I was fortunate to work for Johnson & Johnson whose Credo has helped the organization remain in the forefront for more than 136 years. My MD and I used to teach the Credo to every new employee and one of the main things discussed is that ethical decisions/dilemmas can have very different conclusions if you think long term or if you think short term. And obviously J&J pushed you to always think long term. eg we had 10 factories all over the country and Labour Departments and Inspectors under Factories Act always posed challenges. How to handle. The party line in J&J was “Our only gratification will be Compliance”. we will give you a lunch or a dinner, give you a hired car sometime. But cash packets, a strict no no. We went through many a valley of death, but finally Compliance departments ensured that we will think long term and do what is “right”.

      Both of us have worked for family owned organizations where thinking was different Finally I believe there is no substitute for doing the right thing in the long term as otherwise short term decisions and short cuts always come back to haunt you and the monster grows even bigger with every compromise that you do on the way. So the Short Term & Long Term debate will speak to many of the challenges we face in companies.

      After Nehru who was a debate one had also heard stridently played out, but today we hardly refer to that. Your examples of Sardar, Newton, Einstein are all well taken. But I feel all these people also possessed the humility in heaps to accept whatever life dealt them Sardar is a classic example. After winning elections in the Congress Working Committee Gandhi’s ego came in the way and he made Nehru who had never won an election as PM. Sardar had the grace to accept and play the second fiddle to a much weaker leader like Nehru. But over history Gandhi himself, Nehru, Sardar, even Einstein and Newton moved on and society too moved on. Galileo & Copernicus together were talking of the world being round and while many a voice including the Church tried to shut them up, the truth did prevail. Similarly I feel were it not for Newton or Einstein would knowledge have remained stagnant? No. Someone else would have talked of Gravitation or Relativity. Neither Einstein nor Newton themselves claimed exclusivity. They displayed great humility in their lives.
      that is the point finally I am making.
      Tu nahi aur sahi. Aur nahi aur sahi.
      In the short term someone may indeed feel himself unique and indispensable. But long run it evens out and Life goes on .Even Gandhi could not make any long term, major impact on Indian society.
      “Men will come and Men may go but I go on for ever.” as Alfred Tennyson sings in The Brook.
      The love of Life for Life itself ensures continuity and no one can say I matter ….in perpetuity
      That is my main thesis


  3. Dear Vikas sir !
    Thanks for this wonderful wisdom that instantly freedom to all baggage am carrying!
    Bhagwan Ramana asked a lamenting seeker ” When you get in to a boggie of a Train, do you still carry your luggage on your head or your unload in the storage space? The Train which carries you can carry ur luggage too isn’t? The Lord who created you, knows how to handle ur problems! Surrender!

    The Smart Easwara, Cause & Effect of this universe- in HIS trillion of living & non living entities, Upanishad says ( In Bhagwath Gita 4th chapter, 1st verse Bhagwan starts ” Imam vivaswathe yogam, bhroktha me avyayam” ( Arjuna! The knowledge which am imparting to you, I imparted first to Soorya ( Sun God =Vivaswan)” and even before the first spec of this universe came in to existence.
    That verse ..
    āhāra-nidrā-bhaya-maithunāni sāmānyam etat paśubhir narāṇām |
    jñānaṃ narāṇām adhiko viśeṣo jñānena hīnāḥ paśubhiḥ samānāḥ || 25
    Food, Sleep , Fear & Reproductive nature are 4 common features of both a Human being & others ( Animals ), However Jnanam( Intellect) is a Extremely Special Nature ( Adhigo Vishesha).If a human being doesn’t deploy the faculty of Jnana( Intellect or Discriminative ability) both human & animal one and the same(Samanaha).
    Your blog sir ! today inspires me to think that ” always I should feel I am dispensable” for a reason that I am just a Gardener /HIS instrument who is responsible to water, nurture the garden( family, work & society) .
    Yet express my feel to others who make difference in my life (Parents, A Guru like you, friends and colleagues) that “You are so important! Just can’t imagine without you How my life would have turned in to?”
    and learn to enjoy what HE had bestowed as HIS Prasad and contemplatively reclude myself from all that comes in to my visibility as impermanence , yet revel in a joy that ” I am just a spec, yet a master piece and that Master’s Piece”
    Feeling Blessed
    With lots of Om & Prem


    1. Karthik
      i somehow thought I had replied to your comment
      but then a friend told me it is not on the site
      I had done it from my mobile and so it must not have got saved
      so firstly apologies for the delay
      Sri Ramana Maharshi makes a superb point
      we sometimes think we are being smart when actually we are being foolish like the man carrying his load on his head while in a train
      Bombay commutes in local trains
      and so we have a saying.” Once you have boarded the train, dont run inside the train. You will reach at the same time as you would if you just stood” Running in a running train does not reach you faster”
      Discriminatory ability is imp when you take a decision
      but after you decide and do your best to execute dont fall in love with the outcome
      Understand the gardener or Master is someone else and just submit to the larger power. These are indeed wise thoughts and thanks for bringing tis out so well with lots of examples
      the faster we understand we are just a piece in the Master’s piece we will over come ego and the feeling of indispensability


  4. So profound thoughts Sir. It is very easy to say so but very difficult to accept this hard fact of life. I loved the example of bucket with water and hand into it and the space it creates once we remove the hand. Worth reflecting again and again. Regards, Amit

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Amit
      many thanks for your kind words, as always. Most of the “right” things are hard to do but the reward is very different and tangible.
      the Bucket of Water was a poem I had read in school. Got a great chance to use it in this blog to illustrate indispensability


  5. My sincere appreciation for your above blog post the importance of accepting not being indispensable. Your insights on the value of practicing humility and recognizing our limitations really resonated with me, and I found myself nodding in agreement throughout the entire piece. Your writing is clear, concise, and engaging, and your message is both timely and relevant in today’s world. It’s easy to get caught up in our own sense of importance and forget that we are just one small part of a much larger picture. Believing that we are indispensable can lead to feelings of entitlement and arrogance, which can damage relationships and hinder personal growth. It’s important to recognize that no individual is irreplaceable and that the world will continue to function even in our absence. Accepting this reality can help us appreciate the contributions of others and foster a sense of gratitude for the opportunities we have.
    Your blog post served as an important reminder of this fact, and like me many will feel inspired to approach their own life with a greater sense of humility and gratitude.

    Nobody is indispensable in ministry, marriage, career, business, government etc. Therefore value the role and the position you play or God has given to you.
    -Emmanuel Quayson

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Gopi my friend many thanks for your heartfelt comments and appreciation
      You have rightly captured the essence of what I was trying to say
      Life is much larger than us. If you are privileged to play some small part in the great play, feel grateful and humble. And never fall into the trap of ego, feeling self importance and falsely assuming you are the “karta”
      I am reminded of a small fly which sat on the wheel of a chariot during the Mahabharata war and looked at the dust thrown up by the fast moving wheel and felt proud how it was kicking up so much dust !!!! it is smartest if we disabuse ourselves of such delusions.
      Today’s Gen is the Entitlement Generation and they feel what they are fortunate to receive is all that their superiority/ca[ability is getting them. They forget that there are many many people far better than us who are still standing and waiting to receive.
      So humility, gratitude is imp
      and staying away from pride
      The Quayson quote is indeed true
      the faster we make it our guiding light, the better for us


  6. The blog well describes the hollowness of self acclaimed egoistic individuals who pass away from memories over time while the earthly clock ticks on with the unstoppable passage of ” progress” ever after & always.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This is perhaps one of the most relevant topics in today’s times. In fact, I myself am living through this right now at my job and this provides a whole new perspective to my role. Very well articulated with excellent examples. Thanks for sharing this sir. Now I can apply for leave today 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Abhijit
      very early in my life I realized that the work we do can never be completed today , or even tomorrow
      So I was a big one to ensure my team left office on time, took their vacations and most imp never took them selves seriously
      the trick lies in being iconoclastic and blasphemous towards responsibility
      keep a healthy disrespect for all things around you
      Do what you can sincerely
      but enjoy your evenings and dessert after meals


  8. Reminds me of the marathi poem – जन पळभर म्हणतील हाय हाय. Agree with you when you say it is liberating. It frees you to do your best in every moment and leave the rest.

    Aai used to always say even a new born baby can do perfectly well without it’s mother. So yes a key principle of living, beautifully expressed. Enjoyed this one. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Preeti
      had thought of including this in the blog but it was already beyond 1225
      but the poem is most appropriate
      जन पळभर म्हणतील, ‘हाय हाय!’ मी जातां राहील कार्य काय।।

      सूर्य तळपतील चंद्र झळकतील। तारे अपुला क्रम आचरतील।। असेच वारे पुढे वाहतील। होईल कांहिं का अंतराय।।

      मेघ वर्षतील शेतें पिकतील। गर्वानें या नद्या वाहतील।। कुणा काळजी कीं न उमटतील। पुन्हा तटावर हेच पाय।।

      सगे सोयरे डोळे पुसतील। पुन्हा आपल्या कामी लागतील।। उठतील बसतील हसुनि खिदळतील। मी जातां त्यांचें काय जाय।।

      राम कृष्णही आले गेले। तयां विना हे जग ना अडले।। कुणीं सदोदित सूतक धरिलें। मग काय अटकलें मजशिवाय।।

      अशा जगास्तव काय कुढावें । मोहिं कुणाच्या कां गुंतावें।। हरिदूता कां विन्मुख व्हावें । कां जिरवुं नये शांतींत काय।।

      I think this is ultimate truth. No one will misss us and so why fret this world, why get attached to it?

      as Aai so corrrectly said even a new born can grow up without his mother? so all other relationships are “naganya”

      nevertheless many thanks for your kind words
      mean a lot to me


  9. Exceptional!
    Flowing language, depiction of frailties of life n and the successes and use of Mahabharat to to make a point.
    Mention of burning of chariot just as Lord Krishna got down, was telling a story of life and the lessons from it.

    I was reminded of Marathi poetry in Geetramayan by legendary Late Ga. Di. Madgulkar and I quote ” Panghersi jari asala kapda, yeshi ughada,jasi ughada,
    Kapdyasathi karisi natak, teen praveshache ”
    Vikas,thanks for giving powerful message by that last act of Lord Krishna n his Chariot.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Suresh
      Yeshi Ughada, Jaasi Ughada
      nevertheless we all feel so important
      so involved
      thinking we are the doers
      and world cannot move without us
      so humility and gratitude is what is in our hands and we must practice that


  10. Hi Vikas

    Your blogs invariably provoke thought.

    Request you to consider the following

    Indispensibility emphasizes status quo

    Dispensability is perhaps the only , albeit much misunderstood , indicator of evolution of knowledge , technology & thought.

    The old yields to the new.

    Look fwd to your next blog.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nikhil bhai
      agree indispensability emphasizes status quo
      I have always seen or done it that and soon that attitude converts into my way or the highway
      that is the danger of feeling indispensable
      had not thought of Dispensability link to technology 7 knowledge
      will need to think about this some more
      thanks for the new thought


  11. Excellent expression of how insignificant one is to the extent that when he leaves, कालचक्र will continue uninterrupted. As famous Marathi poet Bha Ra Tambe wrote…
    मी जाता राहिल कार्य काय
    जन पळभर म्हणतील हाय हाय ||
    Liked the flow of thoughts expressed in lucid way.
    I remembered our S M Shirodkar Sir today. You have picked up his style of expression.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nilesh kaka
      You brought tears to my eyes by the memory of SMS
      he was a giant and I keep hoping I become at least 20% of what he was

      I had thought of using that poem in the blog but already it had become so long that I had to drop the idea
      my fav lines in that poem are
      सगे सोयरे डोळे पुसतील। पुन्हा आपल्या कामी लागतील।। उठतील बसतील हसुनि खिदळतील। मी जातां त्यांचें काय जाय।।

      राम कृष्णही आले गेले। तयां विना हे जग ना अडले।। कुणीं सदोदित सूतक धरिलें। मग काय अटकलें मजशिवाय।।

      अशा जगास्तव काय कुढावें । मोहिं कुणाच्या कां गुंतावें।। हरिदूता कां विन्मुख व्हावें । कां जिरवुं नये शांतींत काय।।


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