I began my career in Tata Motors (Telco) in 1975 and was fortunate that my first boss, VS Mahesh was a student of Gurudev Swami Chinmayananda (and later a member of the weekly study Vedanta class conducted by my father). He often gave examples about how we should strive for excellence by learning from our wisdom traditions. This was a great start to my professional life.
In 1978, I joined the Eicher Group, whose Chairman, Vikram Lal was a role model for his ethical and human values. After joining as head of the Corporate HR department at a very young age ( 23 and a half years), I was quickly promoted to head the mother plant of the Company at Faridabad- manufacturing agricultural tractors. This was a unique cross functional move from a staff role to the head of the plant operations with 1100 people!
I was only 27 years old and the company had taken a big risk in giving me so much of responsibility in a completely new area.
In 1982, the Finance Minister announced a ”Credit Squeeze”. This led to serious shortages of bank financing consequent to which our sales of tractors (we were a tractor company) reduced sharply. As a result, the “incentive” payments of the workmen disappeared, which in turn impacted their wages; naturally, their capacity to manage their day to day expenses, was affected too.
Soon, the labour unions began to act up and we faced some very difficult situations in dealing with them. On one particular day, the workers did a “gherao” and surrounded all of us and did not allow us to leave for our homes till very late in the night! (‘Gherao’ is from the Indian word to mean ‘encircle’; usually adopted as a protest tactic, in which workers prevent employers from leaving the work place until demands are met.)
There were also acts of indiscipline by some of the newly elected union leaders. An atmosphere of fear was created in the factory. Sad, because we called ourselves as a loving Eicher Family but were now witnessing the ugly side of ourselves.
It was also at this time that I had been inducted into the Executive Committee of the Chinmaya Mission at Delhi and was named the General Secretary by Pujya Gurudev.
During his Geeta Gyana Yagna, he had explained to us about the source of fear and how to overcome it.
In going through his commentary of the Bhagwad Geeta, I find it beautifully explained by Poojya Gurudev
Ch. 12, Shloka 12
sreyo hi jnanam abhyasaj
jnanad dhyanam visisyate
tyagac chantir anantaram
‘Knowledge’ is indeed better than ‘practise’ ; ‘meditation’ is better than ‘knowledge’ ; ‘renunciation of the fruits-of-actions’ is better than ‘meditation’ ; peace immediately follows ‘renunciation.’
Spiritual practices are disciplines for tuning up the M&I. But the inner personality cannot toe the line unless the devotee knows what he is doing. Intellectual conviction leads to attunement in action as well. This learning converts to understanding when the learner ponders (meditates) over the learnings and then assimilation takes place. Gurudev says this assimilation is verily the flight of the intellect from its current understanding to a better understanding. This flight itself is possible only if the seeker is not distracted by the future (hence hopes, fears, anxieties and such distracted imaginings). Hence Krishna/Gurudev say better than meditation is renouncing fruit of actions (which includes fear and anxiety for the fruit.)
As I faced the tough union situation on that night at the Faridabad plant, I realized that we had to take a tough decision to send the right message to the masses. The acts of indiscipline could not be ignored. So we decided to issue “suspension orders” and “charge sheeted” the union office bearers- an unprecedented step in a plant that had been known for harmonious industrial relations.
Before I took the decision on behalf of the team, a lot of anxiety and fear gripped my heart. Then I realized, I was too much attached to thoughts of the future like “If I am a failure in this new function, what would people say. What if there was violence, what if the situation completely damaged our very high reputation; people would say – this young manager has made stupid mistakes and so on.”
Then Gurudev’s booming voice came to me “You have to do your best and leave the rest. The results are not in your control- your efforts are! When we truly drive the fear of consequences (same as ‘fruits of action’) from our hearts, our mind is at peace. That helps us to live in the state of meditation- that I am not the body, mind and intellect but the ever present witness! When this deep truth is revealed to me as precious knowledge, I gain real wisdom. (This revelation need not be – and often is not – a one-off occurrence. Given human nature, we forget this truth; but every time we let go off fear and attain the contemplative, meditative focus on our duty, and that ‘I am not the BMI but the witness’, this truth reveals itself as ‘the precious gem misplaced by me and found again’.) This then helps me with the practice of dedicating all that I do to higher purpose”
After taking the tough decision, we realized that all of our fears were unfounded. Over the next several days, the workers and the union realized their mistakes and came to us to resolve the matter. After a lot of dialogue in educating people, we then decided not to be egotists (some within our team wanted us to “teach a lesson” to the union by dismissing the leaders from service) and concluded that the power of love and compassion was greater than harsh action and ego-led reactive behaviour.
The message of Gurudev as explained in stanza 13 of Chapter 12 of the Geeta enabled us to take the right decision.
maitrah karuna eva ca
He who hates no creature, who is friendly and compassionate to all, who is free from attachment and egoism, balanced in pleasure and pain, and forgiving.We knew that by forgiving our union leaders for going astray, we would bring them back to the spirit of “Eicher Family”. There was no “loss of face” in stopping the disciplinary procedures. In fact, this incident strengthened our love for one another and the company. In the ensuing years, the company won many national awards for HR practices. Gurudev always inspired us to act fearlessly to uphold our values and at the same time, taught us the power of unconditional love!!
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