As a 5-year- old Shimla boy, I would often see these tall, handsome men walking down Mall Road. Something looked different about them. The way they behaved, the way they spoke; I loved their presence, as it was fascinating. I wanted to be like them.
A couple of years later during my Grade 6, I got to know about Sainik School which is governed by Ministry of Defence and prepares young lads for entry into the armed forces. I applied there and got selected.
Even before going to Sainik School, I was always a top-notch student of my school. My quest was always Number One. Throughout my academic years, I was among the top 3. I was not happy to accept the second best position; I always wanted to be the best. With my determined efforts and the fire in the belly, I became a school prefect, an athlete, and a cross country runner. I also won essay competitions, debates, and declamation contests.
The Sainik School environment reinforced my dream to don the Olive Greens. I gave the UPS exam and joined the National Defence Academy at age of 19 years in 1967. For me, it was Army, Army, and Army. Nothing else!
My biggest inspiration was my grandfather. During long morning walks, he would impart values through his personal stories. I imbibed a lot of life’s learnings and philosophies from him.
One incident made a big mark in my life. During my Grade 5, I got into an argument with a friend. I was boiling with anger and wanted to take revenge. Along with my friends, I was planning a coup. My Grandfather saw me very agitated and questioned me.
Upon hearing my plan of revenge, my grandfather asked me, “What your friend did, was it right?” I said, “No, absolutely wrong”. “Will you also do the same wrong thing?” he asked me. I responded saying, “If he is doing wrong, even I will do wrong.” To this, my Grandfather said, “In that case, what is the difference between him and you? If he is bad then you also want to become bad. Do you want to become a bad boy in life?” I argued saying that if someone behaves like this, I would have to treat him this way. On hearing this grandfather said, “If you want to level up with him, bring him to your level, don’t stoop to his level. If you can do anything, then make him a good boy like yourself, don’t become a bad boy like him.” This lesson has worked so well in my life.
My Mother has been another source of inspiration for me. Her contribution has been instrumental in helping me find my life’s purpose. Whenever I got a promotion in the army, Mom would be ready with a sermon. She always reminded me saying, “God has not given you this promotion to throw your power and authority at people, but rather to stay humble and to help more people. He has given you authority not to make their lives difficult but to make their lives easy.” I have lived by this dictum all my life. Today, if I am able to maintain rock solid relationships, it’s because of my Mother and her teachings.
I always developed this attitude and habit of helping people. I was known in the army as someone who will go out of his way to help another and even if it involved ignoring or deviating of rules if need be, if it made some significant contribution to someone.
I always felt that if I did something that benefitted others it gave me immense satisfaction. I discovered that when I did something for myself, I never felt the same happiness.
So for my own happiness, my own pleasure, because I like to help, to make a difference, to make someone’s life easier, I prematurely chose to hang up my uniform forever and adopt a civilian life to teach, train, and transform young minds and adults who are looking for direction.
My greatest satisfaction comes from knowing that someone’s life got better because of me, regardless if I get credit or not.
I always believed I have to contribute to the planet. Wright Brothers did give us the plane but there were many others who contributed to the development of the Boeing today. Similarly, we enjoy what many people have invented and improved.
The thought that comes to my mind is, “Did we come in this world only to enjoy these facilities; don't we have any obligation to give back to the world? There are thousands who have contributed to this planet, and I also want to contribute to the planet in my own humble way." My ROI is the happiness I get when I know someone’s life got happier because I was there.
I’d like to share an experience where my purpose to make a difference got solidified. During my army day, my stick orderly (assistant) Jai Singh got to know that I was being transferred and he came to me and said, “Sir, you get my transfer done with yours, I would like to go with you wherever you go.”
I was a perfectionist in the army and he would get a lot of firing from me to do his work perfectly. I told him, “Jai Singh, I scold you every day, aren’t you fed up of me?" With a lot of love, Jai Singh said, “Sir I don’t remember the scolding. I can see only your love and the things that you have done for me.” I said, “Jai Singh, I don’t think I have done anything for you.”
Jai Singh said, “When my mother was sick last year, you had called the Lucknow Supply Depot and sent a one ton (mini truck) to pick my mother to the hospital. No infantry junior soldier gets a chauffeur service. My mother went in that vehicle, you got her accommodated, and at the hospital, the doctor was waiting for us and we got VIP treatment. Sir, no junior soldier gets this treatment; we can never think of such support, who does this for us?” It’s a fact that nobody does it. Army officers do get this benefit, but not for the junior soldiers. “I want to go wherever you go.”, he said. I was extremely touched by his words.
This intrinsic happiness gives me the energy to do more for them, empower them, and make a difference.
My Purpose has shaped up, not because of one or two incidents, but because of an amalgamation of 5-6 defining moments. Let me tell you some of these amazing incidents that reinforced my resolve.
In August 2002, at Army School Bareilly, I was handed a 12-foot long scroll with Thank You notes from 800 grateful students. I accepted the gift to a thunderous applause with a standing ovation from the audience. The Head Girl also said, “Sir, before you became the chairman here, we were ashamed of being in this school. We were teased by our friends from other schools, now we walk with our heads held high and announce that we indeed are from army school. Thank you, Sir, for restoring our pride.”
This was six months after I was nominated for the post of Chairman of Army School Bareilly which was directionless and in a bad shape. I immediately took ownership, took some tough decisions, and the transformation happened.
This gesture by the 800 students sowed the seed for me to become an educator and to make a difference to others. My reward is the gleam that I get to see in child’s eyes. That’s the happiness I want. That’s my purpose.
I have been greatly inspired by Bucky – Buckminster Fuller, as a young guy, Bucky was going through a very tough time and he contemplated suicide. He made his plans to commit suicide the next morning. That night, he heard a voice in his dream, saying, “Who the hell are you to put your life to an end? This life is not yours; it does not belong to you. It’s not your property. Your life belongs to the Universe. You are a coward. You came to this Universe for a purpose. You have forgotten your purpose and you are now running away from it.”
Bucky woke up in the morning and decided not to commit suicide. He dedicated his entire life to eradicating poverty and saving the environment. Bucky did a tremendous job on this and lived his life on his purpose.
Bucky’s life and story made my purpose very clear. I too want to make a difference and contribute to making lives easier. When you like something, there is no ‘why’ you like it. Even if there are people who do not acknowledge but they get benefitted with me, I am okay with that. I am happy my purpose to contribute to the Universe is being met.
Nothing is Impossible and Never Give Up; that’s my heartbeat. At the age of 20 years, I was a long distance runner and while running, I developed a very critical lower backache. I somehow struggled and managed with the pain during the army training. Then when I joined the infantry it was getting tougher but I somehow managed it. The army was my dream and I was worried how I would be able to achieve the high ranking positions.
A year after I got my Convocation I did my Young Officers Course. During this course, my backache got worse and I got labeled as a low medical category officer. One army doctor advised me with the surest cure. I was waiting for someone to give me a sure shot cure. The army doctor said. “Accept and learn to live with it.” I was shocked and said that at no cost, will I accept this and live like a crippled. I will work on it.
Doctors suggested surgery and injected a dye in my spinal column and instead of going down my spine, the dye went out of the spinal column and I was in serious danger. The doctors worked hard on me and revived me.
I was only 21 years at that time, I was devastated and said no way, and I will give up. I started to heal with yoga and alternative therapies. I managed to pull through. This backache and low medical category could have crushed my army dream but I relentlessly worked on my back and managed it very well.
Today at 66 years, I stand to deliver sessions eight hours nonstop and I amaze myself. So, "Never lose hope. Never, never, never Give Up."
Let me share another incident, in 1986, I was an independent command and organized a Support Services basketball championship which was considered a herculean task. There was a lot of resistance from different quarters discouraging me, I however relentlessly pursued and got an approval for hosting the championship.
I created a sports camp, and all the five armed services teams were to be represented. I wanted Doordarshan to telecast it live. I wanted to achieve something new. I dreamt of people across the country to see my unit on television. I wanted a live telecast.
Doordarshan does live broadcast only for national events. Since my event was not a national event, the idea got rejected. They were willing to show a recorded version, but I wanted a Live Telecast. Not giving up is in my DNA and I again pursued the matter.
Finally, after a lot of persuasion and debate, Doordarshan agreed to telecast it live. As soon we got this nod, we realized that for the telecast we would need a 40 feet tower in the stadium. This was quite a challenge. But because of my zeal to do a live telecast, I said I will get a tower erected in one week’s time. Now, this was really quite a dare. I pulled my strings, resources, and whatever support I could from armed forces and got the 40 feet tower in erected in just one week.
People in the army started recognizing me as the guy who can do impossible things and I started liking it and took pride in that. Even when I prematurely retired from the army to follow my dream of creating a dream school for children, naysayers said my adventure based empower camp will not work. All I would say to these people at that time, “If I am sure about my purpose, I am committed; I am genuine about it. Why won't people come? I can give myself a delay but I cannot give myself a failure.” I lived my dream at Empower Camp for 10 years and it is a great success today. Now my purpose is much bigger and I am living the life of my dreams.
One thing I learned long ago was that Change is Constant. But in the last few years, it’s the ‘speed’ of change that is causing concern. Managing the speed of change is a premier skill that will make a significant difference and will spell success in life.
The marriage of internet with telecommunications has revolutionized the world drastically. We have moved from the Industrial Age into the Information Age and are now entering the Imagination Age. The leaders of tomorrow will have to be Thought Leaders. They will need to be Digital Leaders. They will need to learn a lot about ‘self’ and harness their inner strength to face the challenges that this world is throwing at us. The world is now volatile; it’s uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. We call it the VUCA world. We will have to think on our feet and decision-making will be tougher than ever before. Let’s shift gears. That’s my message.