This is a biography of the author, beginning with his earliest memories of his childhood as a three-year old. He finds life fascinating with whatever he observes and lives through. Referring to his past, he finds an interesting path emerging and occurring twice—once in the beginning of his twenties; the other when he enters his forties. On studying the lives of several young professionals—doctors, engineers, policemen and teachers – the author concludes that each life is divided into three distinct phases and so he has covered his own in these phases.
In Part 1 of the book, the author talks of his early years when characters and values got imprinted in his mind as a child for whom displacement created self-confidence and how mentoring made a difference in one’s life. Born in Patnagarh, Orissa, in May 1957, the author as a young boy moves from one place to another, growing up in Vanvasi districts of Koraput and Keonjhar. Frequent transfers from one place to another due to his father’s job make the young boy conclude that “displacement is the key to progress”. He adds, “My early life experiences helped me build a high degree of comfort with displacement. Water in a pool is stagnant; only when it flows it is energised.” He voices his philosophy of life thus: “When you are continuously displaced, you make friends early. You have no expectations from the unfamiliar; hence you are more pleasantly surprised than frustrated when faced with life’s many ups and downs.”
Despite such displacements, he gets inducted in the Indian Army and this he recounts especially not to boast of his achievements, but to emphasise the importance of creating an impression in the first meeting. It is important that in every situation, “one has to be not only well prepared but razor-sharp to create instant engagement. Be it a job interview, a presentation, or a meeting, we all have a very short window to make the right impression and unfortunately most of us miss it.”
He begins his career, however, as a junior-most clerk. Soon he gets employment in Delhi Cloth Mills to which he refers thus, “Our lives are like rivers – the source seldom reveals the confluence. Does a river fret over the long journey and about its end just as it is about to spurt? It simply does not do that, caring instead to flow, to begin its journey and on its way build a beneficial relationship with anyone who comes in contact with her.”
In Part II, the author discusses the making of a young professional, who wants to ‘be someone’. Through many ups and downs, he realises the dissonance between the romance of youth and the reality of the workplace. Beginning as a clerk in a government office, the author rises to join Wipro which he leaves to end as a co-founder of MindTree – a manovriksha – India’s first IT services company to get publicly listed. Through this section, the author tries to show that Indian youth generally tend to overlook the importance of the smallest of jobs and forget that in early life, the job in itself is immaterial; what is important is the work ethics that they build. He says, “Your first, the second and even perhaps the third job will not build or define your career; the respect, patience, affection and gratitude with which you treat them will.”
The author describes a very moving scene when he comes to see his mother who has suffered a serious stroke. Just before leaving for the US, he stoops to kiss her goodbye, one last time and she says, “Go, kiss the world.” In the days and weeks that follow, she deteriorates but endures it with no complaints. Finally, she moves on.
It is in Section III, when the author is journeying through mid-life, he discovers that the “decade of the forties for a successful professional becomes a defining period.” It is a time that can almost be compared to an assault camp, where preparedness is made before climbing the final peak. He says, “There is little one can do to rewind and reconsider choices, something life allows you when you are in your twenties. In this phase of life’s journey, unless one handles oneself with contemplation and care, the precipice and not the pinnacle becomes the destination,” because many overachievers who reach the pinnacle are forced to leave the professional journey of their choice.
He seems right in saying that what matters is how they (life’s lessons) lead you to your own reflection and your own life-lessons.
(Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11, Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi-110 017.)