A few years back, over a formal dinner, I was educated that half-way through your 7-course meal, many hosts would serve you a thing called ’sorbet’ a frozen fruit-flavored dessert as a way to cleanse the palate between courses. For even the most delicious of meals needs a change of taste buds. The shaping-years series has been continuing for a while, now it’s time to give both the readers and the writer a break from the past.
Sure, unraveling a secret buried in the distant ‘past’ has a nice mystical ring to it, but sometimes you don’t need to go stressing your grey cells so far back—the ‘present’ moments carry enough randomness. And if these random moments are deciphered correctly, there is a treasure waiting to be discovered. In this new “The Random Years” series, it will be my attempt to delve on seemingly insignificant instances that sweep through the days of our lives, for sometimes they carry tiny hidden messages that are invisible to naked eye…
To rekindle our family romance, I stole a quick outing to Taj Mahal along with my wife and kiddos a couple of weeks back. Ritu and I had seen Taj glory in our wonder years, but Misha and Aneesh hadn’t.
The executive corporate organizer in me had chalked out a perfect treat: a) Fly over to Delhi in the morning; b) drive down to Agra; c) check in at the legendary Amarvilas by Oberoi ; d) go for a very special night viewing of Taj under full moonlight. (It seems that very few people are aware that Taj is open for exclusive night viewing in the vicinity of full moon).
Our 10ish morning arrival in Delhi saw us being greeted by a smart white-suited Avis Chauffeur with a Camry. I was pleased with my decision, for I had a choice of other competitive options from local vendors. “Going with Avis has a good risk-mitigation angle—What if the car breaks down? I can trust the brand with speedy replacement”, I had wisely educated Ritu earlier.
We quickly drove through Rashtrapati Bhavan and the Parliament house area where our great country is supposedly served from, stopping briefly in Bengali Market for energizing local indulgences dripping in sugary oil. Moving with clockwork precision, by 11ish we were well on our way towards Noida to get on the new superfast Yamuna expressway connecting the capital city to Agra.
That’s when the clock cuckooed out. The next two hours we played a dizzy round-robin game to get on the expressway, only to eventually figure out from a young rickshaw driver that a farmer-agitation had ensured the inaccessibility of expressway to commuters from all entry points. Apparently, it was big news that was already splashed all over the morning media. Damn Avis! You would think an organization of that repute would have built-in due-diligence systems to at least match the knowledge gathering mechanism of an under-aged rickshaw driver!
The next hour found us crawling our way back through traffic to catch the old Delhi-Agra road. And when we had barely made it back to the heart of Delhi, smoke started oozing out of the car hood and we got stranded in the middle of everywhere!
Of course, on the flip side, this was exactly the kind of contingency that had driven me to narrow down on Avis to begin with. But that didn’t seem to fly too well with my non-corporate family mindset. My wife chided me for having exercised negative thoughts, my daughter broadcasted on her FB status that this was the worst day of her life, and my son was feeling too pukey so considerately reserved his comments.
After 45 minutes of waiting and a series of apologetic calls from four different folks in the Avis hierarchy, a replacement Audi A8 arrived (at no extra charge). I was amazed by the customer service responsiveness and silently made a mental note; if things go wrong, I can trust Avis to take care of it.
Thus began our race against time. The Taj night-viewing time was pre-booked for the 9:00-9:30 pm nonnegotiable slot. The journey seemed endless; a car full of tired, hungry, and irritated people didn’t seem to help much. We stole a quick stopover for lunch; everyone wanted to hang around a bit. But that would have been poor time-management. A hurried 20 minutes, and my wife forced everyone to get back on the road.
The reporting time to board the battery-operated bus for the Taj tour was 8:30 pm. Our local travel agent’s convincing skills were put to an ultimate test as he deftly held on to the bus departure. We finally made it by sharp 9:00—running, panting, boarding—avoiding glares of fourteen extremely upset people.
A few minutes later, we were standing in front of a bygone age gazing right back at us—the white history basking under the soft shine of white moonlight. No photography. No phones. Silence. A different world. A different time. A picture of raw honesty. Sink it all in, then let the eyelids softly close—and the sight stays with you forever…..
By 10:30 pm, we checked into the hotel, exhausted. All, but the big boss, wanted to order room service. “Push yourself”, she insisted, “we have paid a tiny fortune for this exclusive hotel”. The hotel guest services quite graciously accepted our request to keep the restaurant open late for us; that bought us some time to shower, get ready (as if we were attending a party), and go down.
Only one table was occupied in the restaurant—tucked away in a corner. And my daughter suddenly went berserk. “Mom! Dad! Ashton Kutcher is sitting on that table”. The long day wrapped up with photo shoots, starry-eyed chit chats and a beaming declaration from my teenage daughter: “This is the best day of my life!!!”
I am sure that everyone got the obvious point out of this story— the importance of right attitude to handle adversities. For you never know what lies at the end of the tunnel. The rendezvous with Ashton Kutcher was an outcome of a series of events—expressway closing, car breaking down, replacement car arriving in prompt fashion, managing travel time, barely making it for Taj night viewing, and finally pushing ourselves to go down for dinner. Had any of these events not occurred in the above fashion, then either – a) we would have made it much earlier to Agra and probably would have finished our dinner before Taj viewing; or b) we would have reached too late for our Taj tour, headed straight to the hotel, and would have definitely finished our dinner much before 11:30 pm. As they say—all things, good or bad, happen for a reason. The only controllable factors are the positive thoughts flowing through our brain cells, hope seeping in our heart, and then delivering to the best of our capabilities!
But does this really qualify as a corporate lesson? For all we know, Ashton Kutcher might have been the ‘early to bed, early to rise’ type, and our late night dining would have guaranteed that we miss him at dinner as well as his early morning breakfast time! The point is that however pleasant the end was, meeting Ashton Kutcher was merely an ‘accidental destiny’. While these accidents do add spice to our lives, what management lesson is there to really analyze?
But what about the incredible Taj at night? Surely, that was not an accident, for that was the original PLAN. A plan that almost got derailed thanks to the lone unprofessionalism of Avis—inadequate due-diligence to pre-check the car and road conditions! It took the coordinated efforts of four parties to counter that solitary setback—my risk-mitigation plan, Avis’ responsiveness, Ritu’s time management and our travel agent’s convincing powers.
A genuine professional should learn to differentiate between the role of ‘chance’ and ‘plan’. ‘Chance’ plays a huge role in life’s unpredictable volatilities—right from the birth attributes such as family background and genetic IQ, to a series of environmental accidents that influence our choices of friends, academics, and even professional breaks. But once we eventually settle down in a stable competitive environment, accidental chances get marginalized, and intelligent plans swing into action. The professional world is not ruled by positive thinking, rather by logical thinking. Imbibing hope doesn’t solve problems. On the contrary, results come when we are able to kick the ‘hope’ factor out of the equation. And it’s not about just delivering to the best of our capabilities, it’s about consciously improving upon the worst of our capabilities.
Of course, all individuals are best suited to identify the missing gaps in their own capabilities—the above story highlights in bold a short sampling of such traits. Drop question: amongst the highlighted skills, point out the one that you believe deserves the highest weightage (particularly in managers): a) Organizing Skills; b) Due Diligence; c) Risk Mitigation; d) Responsiveness; e) Time Management; f) Convincing Powers; g) Pushing Oneself.