First let me start with a disclaimer. I am not a big fan of giving or taking gyan (advice). I shun most of the self help books right from chicken soup for your mind or habits of highly effective people and I avoid agony aunt columns like bubonic plague. All the advice I have ever given to my daughter over twenty years can be written on the backside of a post-card. So you need not worry whether this is going to be about how to work effectively and make millions in the process.
But some speeches and writings do inspire me and the recent one I got through WhatApp was so mesmerising, I ended up watching the video a hundred times. The video was about Karma Yoga(m) – the discipline of selfless action as a way to perfection. Karma Yoga is one of the four pillars of spiritual path in Hinduism. Tons of articles are available on the net about Karma Yoga, so I will give it a pass here.
The speaker featuring in the video is Mr. Suki Sivam, a great orator, writer and scholar. His humour is mild, language simple, diction excellent and he always keeps the audiences enthralled.
He begins the speech saying we should not think we work only to earn a salary, so that we can feed ourselves and our families and buy an apartment, car or a bungalow. Yes no one will work is there is no reward (including the speaker, he emphasises on that) but he would not speak only for money. Same way you can’t work only for salary.
The work you do should help you to reach The God. This concept known as Karma Yoga was introduced to the world by India.
The work you do can be anything. May be it is sweeping the floor. Or the engineer’s work who designs and constructs the street or the work of a minister who signs the order for the construction. If you do the work with involvement and devotion, then the work itself becomes a ritual, a penance, a worship and a prayer.
The epic Mahabarata and the Bhagwat Geeta emphasised this concept and this concept was beautifully explained in a Tamil Movie Song, ‘செய்யும் தொழிலே தெய்வம், அதில் திறமைதான் நமது செல்வம்’ – ‘the work we do is The God and our ability to do it is our wealth.’
Many people approach work with an attitude that, ‘I need to work because it fills my stomach.’ This is not a good approach. You can do any job, but do it with full involvement. More importantly, you should understand that the work you do is bigger than you. So don’t have this arrogant assumption that, ‘I am bigger than the job I do.’ Always understand that the work is greater than the individual. Men are born and they die. But the work continues. It does not die like people do.
He narrates an incident how people who have excelled in their profession have considered that the work they do is more important than them.
Once he was travelling with veteran Tamil actress M. N. Rajam who played an important role in the famous movie Ratha Kanneer (tears of blood). He asked her, “Madam, in that movie there is a scene where you kick Mr. M. R. Radha on his face. How did you feel when the shot was taken?”
She replied, “Brother what can I say? M R Radha was a great actor. How could I kick him on the face. I said, I can’t and I won’t do it. The director of the film also thought for a moment to change the scene. But Mr. M. R. Radha refused. He said, “Kick me. Kick me hard. For the money you are paid you should kick me and for the money I am paid I should be kicked.” So I suggested a compromise. I will kick in the air. Cut the shot. Let Mr. M. R. Radha show reaction by turning his face. Shot cut. Then the editor can join the shots. Mr. Radha immediately said, “No. That is cheating the fans who pay money to watch the movie.” He was a great actor.”
Suki sir continues, “Mr. Radha made them repeatedly shoot the scene till he was satisfied that the shot had come out well. Here M. R. Radha the great actor is not big/important. The work he did was big. Today, actors think that they are the centre and the work is secondary. The work we do is always greater than us. Only when people realise this and work with such ethics, the country can become wealthy.”
“First, you should have self esteem in the work you do. Whether the work you do is a low/menial job or an important job does not depend on the job. It is in the approach how you treat work. People think sweeping a street is a low job. Let me tell you this. Sweeping is not a low job. But if there is rubbish left on the street after you have swept, then it is a low job. If you do your job correctly then it is good job, but if someone needs to do the job again then it becomes a low job. So the work, if done correctly, then it is good job and the one who does that work becomes a good worker.”
“This nation considered work as a ritual and worship. You can be a believer or you can be an atheist. That does not matter. This concept first germinated in Mahabharata, the Bhagwat Gita in it and the chapter Karma Yoga. Let me narrate an incident from Mahabharata.”
“Lord Krishna was driving the chariot, Arjuna was sitting behind and the chariot was going through the battlefield and you all know there is always lot of noise in the battlefield. There are three places where there is never a dearth for noise and commotion. Parliament, Battlefield and Market Place.”
“The chariot had to go in the direction Arjuna wanted. But Krishna can’t hear what Arjuna says in the commotion and noise. So Krishna tells Arjuna, “Arjuna I can’t hear you when you say ‘turn left here or turn right there. So you do one thing. You keep your feet around my neck. If you press your right foot thumb on my right chin and push it towards left, I would understand that I need to turn left. If you press your left foot thumb on my left chin and push it towards right, I know I need to turn right.'”
“Krishna is asking Arjuna to keep his feet on his shoulders. Krishna is The God and Arjuna, a human being. How can a human being keep their feet on The God’s shoulder.? No, it is not important if you are a human being or The God himself. The work that needs to be done should be done effectively. That is more important. This was taught in the Bhagwat Gita and M R Radha practiced it.”
Mr. Suki ends the speech with these words, “I am not worried if you are an atheist or a believer. But be good at completing the task you are given. Many people shout non stop that India should become a powerful nation. It can’t be achieved with empty rhetoric. Only when the people of India realise that they need to work hard for their sustenance, only that day, India can become a powerful nation and not as long as we extend arms for freebies and handouts.”
I remember such a thought on work being conveyed by Sachin Tendulkar, the great cricketer. This was in the nineties when Sachin was on his way to super stardom and featured in every second advertisement produced those days. This particular ad was for a soft-drink major where he runs and sits on small hillock and sweeps a cricket stump with one hand in the air and holding the drink on the other hand. One ad guy suggested that he should actually hit a cricket ball with the stump. Sachin refused immediately saying, “That would mean that I am bigger than the game. The ball should be hit with the bat and not a stump. I play a small part in the great sport.” You can watch the ad in YouTube, Sachin swaying a stump in the air.
In my own family I can quote two examples on ‘Work is worship’ attitude. The first one is my father. We used to think that he was just a workaholic. It took many years to understand what it was all about. He worked very hard at construction sites (a civil engineer), came back home, talked about his work with mom and planned what he would do the following day. He used to explain in detail about testing a pile foundation and after few years, mom could tell exactly, how much load you need to put on a pile, how long the load should sit on it and what is the tolerance level for a ‘pass’ or ‘failure’ of the test. We used to tease our mom that she should become a tester in a civil engineering company. Dad took enormous pride in what he did for a living.
It was not just work. He showed perfection in everything he did. A picture he hung on the wall should hang dead straight. He would not accept if the picture frame move a millimetre to left or right. Two incidents readily come to mind.
Once he packed a couple of audio speakers for me to take from Chennai to Hyderabad on a Train. I was staying with some friends in a flat in the city. In the evening, my friends and I unpacked the speakers. They observed the super packing which was done to perfection and made this comment, “Are you not ashamed to call yourself his son?” I was always in a tearaway hurry to do things in those days and how I did the work did not matter as long as I did it.
The second is when we were installing air conditioners in our living room in Hyderabad. Two units were to be fitted on the ceiling and my dad wanted the two units to be aligned perfectly. He was behind the engineers who came for the installation and my friend who was supervising the job was stunned at my father’s insistence that they align perfectly. He made them measure the units (remember this is on the ceiling) from different directions. He was taking as much care and efforts as Michelangelo would have taken while painting on the Sistine Chapel.
Of course by now, I understood my dad more and in fact started copying his quest for perfection.
Next is my nephew Vijay who is a chef. When he was a kid, he used to help Renuka in the kitchen especially when there were guests visiting us and she made special dishes. Inspired by this, he declared after graduating from High School, that, he wanted to be a chef. We all had our reservations and my mom, who thought after being vegetarians for centuries, why should he end up cutting, serving and eating meat was telling him he had other career options. But he was firm.
From the day he entered the school for Hotel Management studies (some eighteen years back) and to this very day, he has put in tremendous amount of work – more than twelve hours a day on an average. The only mantra on which he lives his life is, ‘a happy customer.’ He goes to the restaurant in the early hours every day and returns home close to midnight. I have never seen him complaining, even once, about the hard work he has to do day after day. He is extremely proud about his work and looks at perfection in preparing and serving food and keeps everything tidy in the work place. I can tell you, it is indeed a pleasure to watch him work. A real karma yogi.
The Two Karma Yogis of KMR Family.
Dad in Mangalore Port -1986 & Vijay in a London Restaurant 2019
When I sent the WhatsApp video to Mohan, he asked me if I could add subtitles to the video so that he can send it to his non Tamil speaking friends. I said I would try. Then I thought if this can be put in a blog, it would help people even if they don’t to watch the video.
I have never tried adding subtitle to a video. So it took me some hours to do it. What took me about five hours of intensive work would have taken a twenty something fifteen minutes, the tech savvy generation. You can watch the video here with subtitles.
You can also forward the video link to your friends:
Yes, I has taken me few hours to make the video and write this blog. But what the heac? A small price for a life-time learning.
Featured Image Courtesy: Google Photos
After reading the blog, Uma (JK’s wife) has drawn this picture. Gives you an idea the level of concentration of a Karma Yogi.