Go, kiss the world : Subroto Bagchi, Co-founder MindTree

Posted: October 4, 2009 in General

Subroto Bagchi
Subroto Bagchi

This is a great article I read ever. Everyone must read.

An inspiring Speech By Subroto Bagchi, Gardener and Vice Chairman at MindTree.

“I was the last child of a small-time government servant, in a family of
Five brothers. My earliest memory of my father is as that of a District
Employment Officer in Koraput, Orissa.

It was and remains as back of Beyond as you canimagine. There was no
electricity; no primary school nearby and water did not flow out of a tap.
As a result, I did not go to school until the age of eight; I was
home-schooled.

My father used to get transferred every year. The family belongings fit
into the back of a jeep – so the family moved from place to place and,
without any trouble, my Mother would set up an establishment and get us
going. Raised by a widow who had come as a refugee from the then East
Bengal, she was a matriculate when she married my Father.

My parents set the foundation of my life and the value system which makes
me what I am today and largely defines what success means to me today.

As District Employment Officer, my father was given a jeep by the
government. There was no garage in the Office, so the jeep was parked in
our house. My father refused to use it to commute to the office. He told us
that the jeep is an expensive resource given by the government – he
reiterated to us that it was not ‘his jeep’ but the government’s jeep.
Insisting that he would use it only to tour the interiors, he would walk to
his office on normal days. He also made sure that we never sat in the
government jeep -we could sit in it only when it was stationary.

That was our early childhood lesson in governance – a lesson that corporate
Managers learn the hard way, some never do.

The driver of the jeep was treated with respect due to any other member of
my Father’s office. As small children, we were taught not to call him by
his name. We had to use the suffix ‘dada’ whenever we were to refer to him
in public or private. When I grew up to own a car and a driver by the name
of Raju was appointed – I repeated the lesson to my two small daughters.
They have, as a result, grown up to call Raju, ‘Raju Uncle’ very
different from many of their friends who refer to their family drivers as
‘my driver’. When I hear that term from a school- or college-going person,
I cringe.

To me, the lesson was significant – you treat small people with more
respect than how you treat big people. It is more important to respect your
subordinates than your superiors.

Our day used to start with the family huddling around my Mother’s chulha –
an earthen fire place she would build at each place of posting where she
would cook for the family. There was no gas, nor electrical stoves. The
morning routine started with tea. As the brew was served, Father would ask
us to read aloud the editorial page of The Statesman’s ‘muffosil’ edition –
delivered one day late. We did not understand much of what we were reading.

But the ritual was meant for us to know that the world was larger than
Koraput district and the English I speak today, despite having studied in
an Oriya medium school, has to do with that routine. After reading the
newspaper aloud, we were told to fold it neatly.

Father taught us a simple lesson. He used to say, “You should leave your
newspaper and your toilet, the way you expect to find it”.

That lesson was about showing consideration to others. Business begins and
ends with that simple precept.

Being small children, we were always enamoured with advertisements in the
newspaper for transistor radios – we did not have one. We saw other people
having radios in their homes and each time there was an advertisement of
Philips, Murphy or Bush radios, we would ask Father when we could get one.

Each time, my Father would reply that we did not need one because he
already had five radios – alluding to his five sons. We also did not have a
house of our own and would occasionally ask Father as to when, like others, we
would live in our own house. He would give a similar reply, “We do not need
a house of our own. I already own five houses”. His replies did not gladden
our hearts in that instant.

Nonetheless, we learnt that it is important not to measure personal success
and sense of well being through material possessions.

Government houses seldom came with fences. Mother and I collected twigs and
built a small fence. After lunch, my Mother would never sleep. She would
take her kitchen utensils and with those she and I would dig the rocky,
white ant infested surrounding. We planted flowering bushes. The white
ants destroyed them. My mother brought ash from her chulha and mixed it in
the earth and we planted the seedlings all over again. This time, they
bloomed.

At that time, my father’s transfer order came. A few neighbors told my
mother why she was taking so much pain to beautify a government house, why
she was planting seeds that would only benefit the next occupant. My mother
replied that it did not matter to her that she would not see the flowers
in full bloom.

She said, “I have to create a bloom in a desert and whenever I am given a
new place, I must leave it more beautiful than what I had
inherited”.

That was my first lesson in success. It is not about what you create for
yourself, it is what you leave behind that defines success.

My mother began developing a cataract in her eyes when I was very small. At
that time, the eldest among my brothers got a teaching job at the
University in Bhubaneswar and had to prepare for the civil services
examination. So, it was decided that my Mother would move to cook for him
and, as her
appendage, I had to move too. For the first time in my life, I saw
electricity in Homes and water coming out of a tap. It was around 1965 and
the country was going to war with Pakistan. My mother was having problems
reading and in any case, being Bengali, she did not know the Oriya script.

So, in addition to my daily chores, my job was to read her the local
newspaper – end to end. That created in me a sense of connectedness with a
larger world. I began taking interest in many different things. While
reading out news about the war, I felt that I was fighting the war myself.
She and I discussed the daily news and built a bond with the larger
universe.

In it, we became part of a larger reality. Till date, I measure my success
in terms of that sense of larger connectedness.

Meanwhile, the war raged and India was fighting on both fronts. Lal Bahadur
Shastri, the then Prime Minster, coined the term “Jai Jawan, Jai Kishan”
and galvanized the nation in to patriotic fervor. Other than reading out
the newspaper to my mother, I had no clue about how I could be part of the
action. So, after reading her the newspaper, every day I would land up near
the University’s water tank, which served the community. I would spend
hours under it, imagining that there could be spies who would come to
poison the water and I had to watch for them. I would daydream about
catching one and how the next day, I would be featured in the newspaper.
Unfortunately for me, the spies at war ignored the sleepy town of
Bhubaneswar and I never got a chance to catch one in action. Yet, that act
unlocked my imagination.

Imagination is everything. If we can imagine a future, we can create it, if
we can create that future, others will live in it. That is the essence of
success.

Over the next few years, my mother’s eyesight dimmed but in me she created
a larger vision, a vision with which I continue to see the world and, I
sense, through my eyes, she was seeing too. As the next few years unfolded,
her vision deteriorated and she was operated for cataract. I remember, when
she returned after her operation and she saw my face clearly for the first
time, she was astonished. She said, “Oh my God, I did not know you were so
fair”. I remain mighty pleased with that adulation even till date.

Within weeks of getting her sight back, she developed a corneal ulcer and,
overnight, became blind in both eyes. That was 1969. She died in 2002. In
all those 32 years of living with blindness, she never complained about her
fate even once. Curious to know what she saw with blind eyes, I asked her
once if she sees darkness. She replied, “No, I do not see darkness. I only
see light even with my eyes closed”. Until she was eighty years of age, she
did her morning yoga everyday, swept her own room and washed her own
clothes.

To me, success is about the sense of independence; it is about not seeing
the world but seeing the light.

Over the many intervening years, I grew up, studied, joined the industry
and began to carve my life’s own journey. I began my life as a clerk in a
government office, went on to become a Management Trainee with the DCM
group and eventually found my life’s calling with the IT industry when
fourth generation computers came to India in 1981. Life took me places – I
worked with outstanding people, challenging assignments and traveled all
over the, world.

In 1992, while I was posted in the US, I learnt that my father, living a
retired life with my eldest brother, had suffered a third degree burn
injury and was admitted in the Safderjung Hospital in Delhi. I flewback to
attend to him – he remained for a few days in critical stage, bandaged from
neck to toe. The Safderjung Hospital is a cockroac infested, dirty, inhuman
place. The overworked, under-resourced sisters in the burn ward are both
victims and perpetrators of dehumanized life at its worst.

One morning, while attending to my Father, I realized that the blood bottle
was empty and fearing that air would go into his vein, I asked the tending
nurse to change it. She bluntly told me to do it myself. In that horrible
theater of death, I was in pain and frustration and anger. Finally when she
relented and came, my Father opened his eyes and murmured to her, “Why have
you not gone home yet?” Here was a man on his deathbed but more concerned
about the overworked nurse than his own state. I was stunned at his stoic
self.

There I learnt that there is no limit to how concerned you can be for
another human being and what is the limit of inclusion you can create.

My father died the next day.

He was a man whose success was defined by his principles, his frugality,
his universalism and his sense of inclusion. Above all, he taught me that
success is your ability to rise above your discomfort, whatever may be your
current state. You can, if you want, raise your consciousness above your
immediate surroundings. Success is not about building material comforts –
the transistor that he never could buy or the house that he never owned.
His success was about the legacy he left, the memetic continuity of his
ideals that grew beyond the smallness of a ill-paid, unrecognized
government servant’s world.

My father was a fervent believer in the British Raj. He sincerely doubted
the capability of the post-independence Indian political parties to govern
the country. To him, the lowering of the Union Jack was a sad event. My
Mother was the exact opposite. When Subhash Bose quit the Indian National
Congress and came to Dacca, my mother, then a schoolgirl, garlanded him.
She learnt to spin khadi and joined an underground movement that trained
her in using daggers and swords. Consequently, our household saw diversity
in the political outlook of the two. On major issues concerning the world,
the Old Man and the Old Lady had differing opinions.

In them, we learnt the power of disagreements, of dialogue and the essence
of living with diversity in thinking. Success is not about the ability to
create a definitive dogmatic end state; it is about the unfolding of
thought processes, of dialogue and continuum.

Two years back, at the age of eighty-two, Mother had a paralytic stroke and
was lying in a government hospital in Bhubaneswar. I flew down from the US
where I was serving my second stint, to see her. I spent two weeks with her
in the hospital as she remained in a paralytic state. She was neither
getting better nor moving on. Eventually I had to return to work. While
leaving her behind, I kissed her face. In that paralytic state and a
garbled voice, she said, “Why are you kissing me, go kiss the world.” Her river was nearing its journey, at the confluence of life and death, this
woman who came to India as a refugee, raised by a widowed Mother, no more
educated than high school, married to an anonymous government servant whose
last salary was Rupees Three Hundred, robbed of her eyesight by fate and
crowned by adversity – was telling me to go and kiss the world!

Success to me is about Vision. It is the ability to rise above the
immediacy of pain. It is about imagination. It is about sensitivity to
small people. It is about building inclusion. It is about connectedness to
a larger world existence. It is about personal tenacity. It is about giving
back more to life than you take out of it. It is about creating
extra-ordinary success with ordinary lives.

Thank you very much; I wish you good luck and Godspeed. Go, kiss the world.”

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Comments
  1. kishore says:

    Nice job..keep goin:)

  2. Sandesh says:

    Thanks alot Kishore. 🙂

  3. […] Polls Go, kiss the world-By Subroto Bagchi […]

  4. Marc Shaw says:

    Hey, I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say GREAT blog!…..I”ll be checking in on a regularly now….Keep up the good work! 🙂

    – Marc Shaw

  5. Hey, I found your blog while searching on Google. I have a blog on online stock trading, I’ll bookmark your site.

  6. Sandesh says:

    Thanks Mark, keep reading.

    Kind Regards,
    Sandesh

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