Just a few days back, a man lit a fire in a vacant plot next to our house. Its flames singed my favourite mango tree. I love that tree; I had planted her 13 years back and she has been very generous. This season has not been good for her. She has a lot less fruit. But her bunches were just about beginning to look pretty, you could see them through the green leaves, when the fire was lit by this man who the owner had engaged to get the vacant land cleaned up of weeds and debris. It was a sad, mindless act. Completely unnecessary!
Our venture-capitalist friend VG Siddhartha had dropped in with a very senior investment banker from Japan. The gentleman was quite worried about the future of the industry. He asked me, what did I think would happen? He really wanted to know. But here I was, just a start-up entrepreneur, how could I predict the fate of the world? It wasn’t that I wasn’t worried, but how much could I worry? We had people to pay, customers whose existing work needed to be completed and delivered and investors to be taken care of someday,even as all prospective business had come to halt. I listened to the man and then told him what came straight from my heart. I asked him, what would a farmer do if monsoon failed?
What would he do if everything went well but just a week before the harvest is to come home, a cyclone ravages his standing crop?
The man would simply watch the destruction, feel the pain, the hurt, feel the failure of his year of hard work in the face of a force with whom he has no personal enmity.
Then the man would just go home, wait for the next season and start all over again.
Farmers have known the drill for 3600 years now!
For an entrepreneur, the enterprise is a piece of land. One must relate to and respect it the same way a farmer relates to, and respects, his land.
I do not know if my explanation helped the investment banker, a man given to numbers, listening to trade analysts and constantly scrounging the computer screen until life and money become one and the same.
But my spontaneous explanation to him keeps coming back to me in many different ways every now and then.
A year or so after that conversation, I planted my first banana plant, lovingly carried from friend’s farm. Every few weeks, the little thing brought out a new leaf. Young banana leaves are very pretty; they have this lovely green that is uniquely their own. Every morning, I sat by Susmita’s kitchen window with my morning tea and watched the newest leaf unfold. It was a bond between me and the banana plant; as if it was proudly, lovingly, showing off how she was growing up. Like a child showing off the report card to a parent. It was a living report card
Then one day, when I returned home, I was devastated to see the lovely young plant shredded to the ground. What happened? A rogue monkey had come and torn the plant to the ground in a matter of minutes. Mindlessly, without any provocation.I felt very sad for the plant. The tree had no enmity with anyone, certainly not with the unreasonable animal that killed it. It had done no one any harm. That night, when I went to bed, in a somewhat selfish manner, I also felt sad for myself. But before falling asleep, a thought came to my mind: it was about the plight of thousands of farmers whose standing crop gets eaten by wild animals and sometimes, just gets ravaged. What they do, I wondered before falling asleep.
The interesting thing about setbacks is that sooner or later, most of us get over them. Until of course the next big one comes along and then we question the sanity of solace. This happened soon enough.In 2004 Susmita and I finally had our Bose music system. We had craved for it all our lives and finally it was there. We loved its reverberating sound, its clarity, its sheer magnificent rendering of every note and string that created orchestra effect in the house. Then one evening, the transformer next door exploded, sending 440 volts of angry spikes to every appliance at home and the innards of the music system just melted in their onslaught. It was very upsetting for us. Unlike the ignorant daily-wage worker who had singed the mango tree or the monkey, this was institutional failure of the electricity board. We felt angry and helpless and the whole thing was so avoidable and simply unjust.
That feeling paled into insignificance within weeks of the music system’s melt-down; the 2004 Tsunami hit India and without a moment’s notice, its fury wiped off 18000 human lives, mostly poor people who had no issues with the ocean and the earth and not content with the destruction of lives, the angry wavesdisplaced an additional 600,000 people from their hearth. And here I was, saddened by the negligent act of the electricity supply board that had destroyed my music system.
The New Year dawned just a week after the Tsunami. I was at my usual place in Susmita’s kitchen one early morning alternating between my cup of tea and the newspaper. Then I saw a miracle as my eyes had drifted momentarily from the newspaper.
A small offshoot was announcing its arrival where once the banana plant stood. Very delicate, very innocent, almost powerless in the face of a tremendous number of variables that even a Nobel Prize winning economist cannot predict. Nonetheless, it was there. It was there because it did not know the variables.
Thank you for reading my blog dear friends and do send your love to the singed mango tree.