If there is anything life has taught me, it is that with a little bit of luck and subconscious perseverance as fuel, every curve holds a surprise, most of the times mitigating the dread that steels your heart in forethought of it.
For a kid who was perched precariously on the Indian middle-class precipice, the primary worry had been to find a place that would help spread my wings. It was providence that the state’s best quasi-military school welcomed me with both arms, which was my first break in life. The institution took care of the costs, as my parents could not have afforded it, not easily anyway. The esprit-de-corps that the public school life instilled in me was a heady combination of discipline, the capability for unconditional loyalty, and a strong intuitive sense of right and wrong. To my delight, a few decades later, I still find it very easy to hold on to these steadfastly.
I am amazed at how life can throw up an opportunity at a time you need it most. At times, it doesn’t look like one but it becomes that prime mover to power your ideas to the next level. Again it came to me at the threshold of my schooling, as I stood there looking around for another doorway of open. Joining professional courses was the norm those days but these were not affordable for my family, and were therefore never an option.
This time around, it was the world’s fifth largest Navy that gave me the break. Life in India’s armed forces, and from the ones I have seen around the world, is a great equaliser. It borders on the profound because once you don your uniform your soul is touched by a purpose much higher than your own self. Life in the Navy gave me a wide range of experiences: from operating Attack Submarines to climbing Mount Everest from the North Face.
Once you have experienced the highs and depths of life, literally so in my case, the later phase is often of contemplation and of following your heart: on where life has led you and the path that you can choose from that point in time. During the course of all these high adrenalin phases of my life, I knew there was a part of me which couldn’t come to terms with the misery caused by hunger, disease and depravity. I wanted to add my bit and offer to others what life had handed to me. What else does one do when the heart is wrung by the sight and stories of utter helplessness of fellow human beings to feed their children or give them some modicum of safety? What other option does one have, but to embark on this journey to try and do one’s bit? It only felt natural.
There came my next break – for my transition from defence to social sector: from cautious destruction to conscious development – as an invitation to help run Head Held High Foundation, and I jumped into it headlong. The Foundation’s vision is to eradicate poverty by catalysing transformation of illiterate villagers into capable workers on the one hand, and create employment and business opportunities on the other, to enable work to occur in villages, creating sustainable rural economies. In this field of work, surprisingly, I feel the same nervous excitement as I felt in the dimly lit Control Room of a submarine prowling the depths of the oceans.
When I reflect on why I am doing what I am doing and how distant a space I came from, I wonder whether it is a Higher Design at play, or whether we all have in us an innate fount of empathy that could be channelled to touch other’s lives and help build theirs with compassion.
I surely think all of the above is true, as I am around to tell my tale, and of the way luck built mine.