| 3 MINUTE READ | sometimes we are fulfilled by the promises we make
All limitations begin when we see our lives as a story. And ourselves as a character in it.
A few minutes past 4am on a cold December in 1995, my eyes opened to the sound of my landlord’s voice streaming onto the terrace and into my room. There was a phone call for me next door at his elder brother’s house. My father had just died.
On the flight back home, there was a lingering sense of being uncertain of my own circumstances. Like it belonged to someone else. Turning me into an imposter in my own body. And then everything fell quiet.
Thirteen days later I was back on site in Panipat. From a student preparing to escape all the problems that plagued my father and his company – my life suddenly became a native adventure. The winter fog, that reduced visibility to five feet, made it resemble a dream.
A few months earlier, our project manager at Panipat suddenly quit. My father moved to site to replace him and I went along to help. We were struggling to emerge from bankruptcy. Fallen off a cliff, still alive and now preparing ourselves for the long climb back. Enveloped by a sense of destiny and vulnerable to every minor setback. In the absence of cash, some management principles lose their substance. Ideas of structure and delegation become irrelevant. The relationship between work and survival becomes direct, visible and in some strange ways – inspiringly simpler.
I had completed my applications to Cornell for a post graduate program. On the train ride up north, I told my father that I would probably never return to take over his business once I left. I was looking to him – burdened by the recent loss of a son and the weight of reviving a defeated army – for comfort. And that’s what he offered me. He asked me to live my life in a way that gave me peace and joy. Gentle, kind, sincere.
On site, the hydraulic presses were being prepared for operation. A temporary plant was being readied – to house, handle and fabricate the steel plates. I looked at the stacks of large thick plates laid out in two rows. Each of these 350 plates cost as much as a sedan that we could not afford. I gauged their value through the lens of my own unfulfilled desires. These plates became our onsite fleet. Each of which would be slowly pressed into segments of a sphere that would be welded together to store LPG at the refinery.
One morning we stepped out of the site office together. I watched my father giving meticulous instructions to galvanize this assortment of steel, machines and men into creative activity. In that moment, my father was a conductor and this was his symphony. Until then all I had seen was the dark underbelly of a failing enterprise. A stream of phone calls from abusive creditors, some of whom would be parked in our living room each morning. A gradual erosion in the muscle to manage small things – the delayed repair of household appliances, the default in payment of college fees. Significant work milestones from better days now hovered around as painful memories that made me wince when I saw a business newspaper or magazine. Each evening as my father and grandfather returned from work, an uncertain tentativeness tiptoed around hope. We lived with a constant alertness to navigate within the shrinking perimeters of what we could afford.
But all I could see that day on site in my father was a man at peace with himself and calmly immersed in his work. It inspired me. A darkness I had been holding onto lifted. Over dinner that evening I told him I would definitely return to work with him. And how proud I was to be his son.
A few days after his death, I found a letter on my desk in the office. From Cornell, offering me a seat next summer. I slipped it into my drawer. My relationship with my father had primarily been about me. About all that I needed from him. But in his last months, I felt grateful that in my promise to him was a clear expression of how much I admired and loved him.
It is assumed that people overcome life’s challenges through resolve. But that is being deceived by the surface of things. Sometimes the difficult events of our lives propel us into anguish. A noisy confusion. Like a swimmer fighting to save himself from drowning. At other times they cleanse us into a silent awareness. A swimmer allowing the waves of his own turmoil to buoy and carry him forward. These are always the choices we have. And my father . He chose well.
Last year while sorting through documents in my office library, I came across the Cornell admit letter and shared it with my wife. She asked me if I ever missed going there. I never did. Because that small glimpse of my father on site so many decades ago brought with it an epiphany. That a life guided by love and spontaneity eclipses the tyranny of hope and expectations.
On that day my life became a river. Made me ready to go wherever it took me.
Samsara – the cycle of death and rebirth to which life in the material world is bound.