Request: Please, forgive me if you find this post too full of self admiration.
A hectic week was ahead. On Sunday afternoon I had returned from a week long travel in Andhra Pradesh. On Tuesday evening was a conference call, for which I had to prepare. On Wednesday I was going to Delhi for a workshop, which needed some amount of preparatory reading. Return from Delhi on Saturday night, and travel to Gujarat Monday (next) early morning was the plan. In all, I needed to prepare for five different meetings within two days. Life was too short.
Monday morning I reach office and there is an invitation. The institution has long term relations with my organization, so I cannot reject. I am supposed to facilitate a session on ‘Women’s Empowerment’ on Thursday. I won’t be in town on that day. None of my colleagues are free to do me a favor. I have no option but to request the organizers for change of day – and Tuesday is the only possible day.
Monday night, I come home and prepare for the session.
When I reached the workshop venue, there were only four participants. Swine flu had scared the potential participants, hence the meager attendance. By the time I chatted with the workshop coordinator, two more people joined. Then we had formal inauguration - I spoke informally though – and we had snacks and tea. One hour spent in waiting, introduction and my ‘inaugural speech’.
By the time I started my session, one more participant came – so there were seven heads (– I am not including mine in the total for obvious reasons.) I was given two hours’ time for the session, and I took exactly that much time. I enjoyed the session and the participants’ verbal and non-verbal responses showed joy and satisfaction. They all forced me to lunch with them. After all the ‘give and take’ of cell number and e-mail id etc, I started back for office at 2.30 in the afternoon.
On the way, I suddenly remembered N. I was a full time activist then. N was Vice President. He had arrived in the city to conduct week long training. On the first day, only three participants appeared. I was completely disappointed and thought that canceling the training was the best way. To my utter amazement N had a full two hour session (which was the plan) with them. He was calm, quiet; he did not compromise with the content and with the quality of the delivery. After every five minutes I was looking at the wall clock, wishing to wind up the session and the event.
Immediately after his session was over; (and before the participants left ;) I suggested N that ‘we end the training here’. I was not bothered about putting such a suggestion to the Vice President. N was surprised. He asked, “Why? What is the reason?” I was impatient and said, “Do you mean that only for three people we all should waste so much of time and energy?”
N smiled. “Do you mean that those who did not come are more important than those who came? You should check your premise.”
I was taken aback by his response. However I was adamant. “Is not your time and energy more important? Don’t you think that you should utilize your time more effectively?” I was indeed rude to him. “I will plan some other activity, which will attract more participants”, I added.
N smiled again. He said, “Experience has taught me never to count on numbers, never to play for gallery. All good work needs a farmer like patience. You sow seeds at the smallest opportunity. Who knows, something will grow here too. If nothing grows, don’t feel guilty. Your job is to deliver irrespective of rewards. Do it for the sake of work, joy of work, excellence and duty. Never bring down the quality of work because there is nobody to appreciate. One should always give hundred percent. ”
I was touched by his sincerity and honesty. I gave up. But I was puzzled. I was not fully convinced. I did not understand him then. It has taken 25 years for me to understand what he said that day.
Today if someone challenges me for wasting half a day just for seven heads, my answer would be: I did it because I believed that I had something important to share. I did it because I trust that no good work is wasted. I did it because the cause mattered to me. I did it because I valued and respected those who were present. Less effort from me would have been an injustice. I did it not for any external gains but for the pure joy of working excellently. The work itself was rewarding.
I did not do anything for those seven heads. I did it for myself.