Two Ladies For Two Minutes

Feb 14, 2005

When Prasad Kaipa invited me to speak at Indian School of Business -- the most prominent B-school in India -- in Hyderabad, on a one-day notice, I agreed without any good reason. It would mess up many other plans, but hey, plans are meant to broken. :)

Considering that they were flying me into Hyderabad, without knowing me, I figured this must be a high budget college. And it was. With the who's who of the corporate world endorsing it, with faculty from Kellogg, Wharton and the likes, with an annual fee of 1.4 million rupees, ISB has its own reputation.

I don't really know who I am speaking to, or for that matter why I'm speaking there, but I just show up anyhow.

My guide at the college, gives me ten minutes of an introduction. I asked him, "What should I speak about?" He said, "Well, Prasad told us, 'Do anything to get him here. He can speak on anything he wants.'" Ok, that didn't help. I'm sure my guide had his doubts too; I mean, I have no accolades to my name, I was not dressed in fancy clothes, and I looked -- and acted -- like a kid. :)

I walk into the fancy classroom and give a talk. I only know one topic -- service -- so I spoke about it, in a business language. Although I was sleepy, I spoke my heart out. And it resonated. People asked me all kinds of questions, from finding balance in life to a transformative experience that rocked that my world to my personal economic situation. I don't know what I said, but the folks came up to me at the end of the talk to shake my hand, and some even had tears in their eyes as they said their thankyou's.

After a nice lunch, I left ISB within an hour or two. I felt good about being able to make it. On the Sahara Airlines flight back, I was trying to sleep but between the Subway sandwich and the flight music and the amply available newspapers, I stayed awake all the way through.

As we boarded off the plane, I got into the shuttle to head to the main terminal.

Right then, these two ladies from the plane came and stood next to me. I stared at them, as is normal in India :), for about 30 seconds. And then I was awestruck. They looked like my school principals from Kindergaten to 7th grade!

"Excuse me," I said. No response. I repeated, "Excuse me, are you Chandraben and Bhartiben?" A third lady, whom I hadn't seen but was the school secretary, said "Oh yes, hello." She recognized me and all of sudden, I recognized them.

Immediately, in my heart, there was a feeling of gratitude for the awesome-ness of life. I hadn't seen them since I left India, 18 years ago. But the well-rounded 24 subject -- horseback riding and knitting included -- education that they imparted through Amrit Jyoti was incredibly formative in my life. I tried to see them before, simply to express my gratitude, but couldn't. And here it was, a universe arranged appointment that no one can refuse.

When I asked them if they recognized me, they bluntly said, "Of course we do." They asked me where I was now and I told 'em, "America". Both of them were immaculately dressed, as always. Chandraben had a scarf on her head and I think she had lost her hair (hopefully, it wasn't a result of chemo therapy). It was odd, but they didn't make eye contact with me. Perhaps they get many old students bothering them on flight shuttles. :) Nonetheless, for me, it was a welcome home like none other.

You give with one hand, receive with another. Sooner or later, life comes a full circle.

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"Service doesn't start when you have something to give; it blossoms naturally when you have nothing left to take."

"Real privilege lies in knowing that you have enough."