The fear that binds us to wealth is the uncertainty of its true role in our lives
My grandfather was a buccaneering entrepreneur. People often cautioned him to temper the scale of his risks and the expansiveness of his ambition.
His pithy response to those concerns was that he came to Bombay from Kumbakonam in a dhoti and if required he would return to Kumbakonam in a dhoti. Inspiring fearlessness faces adversity far more elegantly than a failed risk assessment.
As our debt pangs grew we prioritized our spending. Our telephone landline was cut for almost a year. When it rang back to life I would spend a few ecstatic minutes jumping with joy.
The fear that binds us to wealth is the uncertainty of its true role in our lives. Money buys food & security. It need not buy love, confidence, and inspiration. Although we often allow it to. Hence the uncertainty.
Work was the hunt that fulfilled my grandfather’s spirit. Money was a collateral result that had to be distributed. Our home had a regular stream of villagers from the south, seeking financial assistance to repair their homes or for the marriage of their children. Nobody left empty-handed.
In the 80s, political sanctions on Libya and the Iran-Iraq war initiated a cascade of events that resulted in the Company he founded going bankrupt. The stream of villagers thinned out but continued. When cash ran out he would give them my grandmother’s jewelry. He never opened a fixed deposit in his name. He was not a man of half-measures.
As our debt pangs grew we prioritized our spending. Our telephone landline was cut for almost a year. When it rang back to life I would spend a few ecstatic minutes jumping with joy. Our living room ceiling had begun to peel. Sometimes chips would slip off and land with a muted thud and a puff of white dust on the carpet. When it happened in the middle of a conversation with guests, we would discuss our ceiling. It had turned into a mosaic of white plaster and grey cement. A proposal to re-plaster and paint it was rejected. My father said we had to wait until he could begin settling his debts. As a compromise, we agreed to scrape all the plaster off and lived with a gray cement ceiling much before the Good Earth Store made it fashionable. His earnestness inspired us and gave a noble purpose to the state of our ceiling.
Our home had a regular stream of villagers from the south, seeking financial assistance to repair their homes or for the marriage of their children.
When I was in engineering college, my roommate’s father visited Bangalore once every 2-3 months on work. He would stay at the Taj on MG road and would invite us for a meal there. They were my precious excursions back into the ambience of wealth. My father visited once and stayed at the Woodlands Hotel. I met him alone in a small and spartan room and left early, disappointed that he could no longer afford a room at the Taj. He stood quietly outside his door as I left, sending me only love as a response to my dejection.
We sold our sprawling south Bombay apartment and moved into a small rented flat in Baroda. It was on the fourth floor of a nondescript building without elevators. He was in his mid-50s.
He spent the first 20 years of his working life building his father’s firm into one of the rare Indian contenders in the global Oil & Gas industry. He spent the next 10 years working to contain its spectacular implosion and the last 5 years of his life rebuilding it from scratch. But I never heard a word of angst from him.
The Climb up four stories enabled him to exercise and remain fit, he would tell me. We sat on the floor to eat dinner and he appreciated the fresh food my mother served us. Music played in the background of our evening conversations. He worked with the quiet resolve required to travel through the landscapes of failure.
Resurrecting a company from the brink without cash magnifies every minor problem into a crisis. But calmness was my father’s currency. Every time we were hit by a wave of bad news, the normality in his responses would make my fears evaporate. If he is so relaxed, it can’t be that bad.
The simplicity, contentment, and courage with which my parents & grandparents navigated through the throes of uncertainty allayed my confusion and rebuilt my faith. Money can’t buy love, confidence, and inspiration – they come from within. Money can buy an elegantly plastered and painted ceiling, but I can wait as long as I need to for that if I have to.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.
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Thanks for this lovely piece, Anand! I enjoyed it thoroughly! Please keep writing. Neeraja Raghavan
Thank you Sreeram . VTV came out of those difficult days more than 20 years ago, and by the grace of God has been doing well ever since
Brings back my memory of my time in VTV.
Dear Sri. Arvind,
Thank you for taking the time to provide your response and feedback. As advice from a veteran journalist, they carry the weight of insight and I will make the effort to use them to inform my future efforts.
I am taking the liberty of sharing this response on the site to enable it to provide context to readers with regard to the piece and some of your concerns about it.
The article includes a brief gist of some observations and incidents during my growing up years and the enduring manner in which they shaped my perspectives about the role of money in our lives.
I apologise if parts of it were found to be disturbing or confusing, which was not my intent.
My grandfather and father were distinct in many ways but they converged in the underlying essence of the approach with which they navigated through difficult times. Which was with their faith in life and in themselves remaining intact.
Since it is a narration that spans a large period of time, the repair of the ceiling and thereafter dwells on my father while the preface before that introduces my grandfather.
The challenges of dealing with a business downturn are multi-fold and their effect on people is rarely discussed in detail because failure leaves its own scars on every family. The life they led amidst this was extreme in many ways and I presume that is what you refer to in terms of going overboard. But all our stories have a life of their own and it is in the fullness of time that they arrive into the equilibrium of hindsight.
The intent of my writing, as is mostly the case with amateur writers, is to introspect and understand myself and the world around me. It can at times be a long & winding process, until we are able to move beyond words and memories to do so.
It is true that Vijay Tanks & Vessels are a respected name in the oil & gas industry, L & T learnt storage tank builing from Vijay Tanks & Vessels (VTV), They have built name & if not prosper, but has tremendous goodwil.
The essay is disturbing and, at places, confusing, what with the switch from grandfather to the father. But well-written in an era where even professional journos muck yp their English reports/articles. Above all, a sobering advice to the modern youth. Keep writing, Anand, but don’t go overboard on any issue — please.
Interesting life story, well told. You’re lucky to have such parents & grandparents with equanimity!!
Well said Kalyan. It is the same mover who helps us prioritize at times, between ceilings and creditors.
अहम् राष्ट्री संगमनी वसूनां — So says, Vagdevi in Rigveda. This means, I am the mover of wealths, I am the Rashtram. So, nothing wrong in repairing ceilings.