Privilege and opportunity to serve
No one is perfect, so let us not pretend to be, as the Mauvilac advert claimed about its white paint, ‘plus blanc que blanc’ – for right now all seems to be rather ‘plus noir que noir’
By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee
Being elected to public office or holding a high position in society in any capacity – as individual or part of an organisation – should be considered a privilege and an opportunity to serve others. Whether one takes this view or not depends on what values have been inculcated in the course of one’s upbringing in the family, with additional inputs that can be acquired from formal educational set-ups and in the course of exposure to vocational and professional environments.
Additionally, one must be inspired by a higher ideal, one that would ennoble one’s life, with fallouts in whatever field of activity one engages in. To my mind the highest ideal is captured in the oft-quoted saying of Swami Sivananda: ‘Service to man is service to God’.
With God as one’s Guiding Light, one is not likely to falter or to deviate from the right path. But if one is an atheist, one can still look up to illustrious people who have been living examples, who have served their countries with distinction and honour.
“The quasi-explosion of scams and scandals linked to several leaders of government and of corporates or business elites around the world in recent times, not sparing our own country, belie the goody-goody image they project – or pay for such? — of themselves in the media. Haven’t we heard so many of them proclaim their commitment to serve the people and the national interest or public good umpteen times, from the time of their elevation to their respective positions and during the continuous coverage that they are adulated with? And which becomes stale and sickening after a while?”
Among the few names that come to my mind are those of Dr S Radhakrishnan, philosopher who became President of India, and Dr APJ Abdul Kalam who too became India’s President. In his autobiography Dr Abdul Kalam writes about how he was lifted out of his dejection on not being selected as an air force pilot following an interview held in Dehra Dun in North India. Before returning to Madras where he hailed from, he walked from Dehra Dun to Rishikesh, where he met with Swami Sivananda – the founder of, the Divine Life Society – at his ashram. The circumstances of the encounter are themselves an inspiring lesson from Dr Abdul Kalam’s life, but I will limit myself to reproducing what Swamiji told him:
‘Accept your destiny and go ahead with your life. You are not destined to become an air force pilot. What you are destined to become is not revealed now but it is predetermined. Forget this failure, as it was essential to lead you to your destined path. Search, instead, for the true purpose of your existence. Become one with yourself, my son! Surrender yourself to the wish of God’ (italics added).
As is well-known, after this, Dr Kalam went on to steer the strategic Indian space and missile programmes, and to become the 11th President of India. He was reputed for his spartan way of living, but one episode stands out which should be another lesson for those privileged to reach similar positions. He paid down to the last rupee the expenses incurred during the stay of his relatives at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, when they had come for his inauguration as President.
I recall reading that President Radhakrishnan used to retain a token salary of one rupee, returning the rest to the public treasury. I cannot vouch for this piece of information, but I would not be surprised if it were correct.
So, service to others or self-service? The quasi-explosion of scams and scandals linked to several leaders of government and of corporates or business elites around the world in recent times, not sparing our own country, belie the goody-goody image they project – or pay for such? — of themselves in the media. Haven’t we heard so many of them proclaim their commitment to serve the people and the national interest or public good umpteen times, from the time of their elevation to their respective positions and during the continuous coverage that they are adulated with? And which becomes stale and sickening after a while? But so blinded do they become by their own falsehoods that after they have exited or been forced out they have no remorse at all, and shamelessly try to rationalize their infamous demeanours. Which for all we know do not stop, for habits – especially the wrong sort — die hard.
While all that finds its way into the public space is there for all to see, it is not as if those who come forward to clamour for justice are necessarily free of the same sins – such as corruption, lack of transparency, shady deals, nepotism, interference in institutions, yielding to lobbies — they are denouncing. After all, we have so often heard of and experienced bonnet blanc, blanc bonnet that we cannot be blamed for becoming cynical, stopping to believe all and sundry who pretend that they are the next – encore! — messiahs. Because, once more, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
But there are other equally condemnable or damnable things that take place under the surface or behind closed doors about which bits and pieces of information circulate or get picked up in the course of conversations. Like lobbies that give financing to both sides in an election, calibrating the amounts according to their projections of which is likely to be the winning horse. Horse, incidentally, is an apt metaphor, because whipping goes on before and after. Horses’ mouths don’t lie, if we go by the adage.
It would be naïve to think that it is only in the political sphere that the rot exists. There are examples known of finance professionals conscious of their fiduciary responsibilities to their clients being pressured to resort to the more expensive in-house stockbroker, rather to external ones that would be to the client’s advantage. And what about ‘creative accounting’ – euphemism for cooking the books?
On the other hand, former workers at the residences of personalities in their current or previous positions have many a tale to tell, and are well aware that the well-aired public declarations are at great variance from what happens in practice. As those familiar with PG Wodehouse’s ‘Jeeves’ novels will appreciate, the butler knows all about the master…
No one is perfect, so let us not pretend to be, as the Mauvilac advert claimed about its white paint, ‘plus blanc que blanc’ (‘whiter than white’) – for right now all seems to be rather ‘plus noir que noir’ (‘blacker than black). We all have our faults and foibles – which is all the more reason why we should be ready to seek wise counsel and guidance from those who can give them dispassionately, who have no axe to grind. Trying to fool, deceive or cheat people who have placed their trust and confidence in good faith in one is a crime for which the chastising will come, and it will be in the here and now. What goes round comes round isn’t it?
* Published in print edition on 12 February 2021
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