An alumnus of Sri Sathya Sai University, Mr. Mani joined the Brindavan campus of Bhagavan's University in 1990. After completing his Bachelors of Commerce there, he moved on to the Prasanthi Nilayam campus to pursue his Masters in Financial Management during the years 1993-95. Currently, he works as Associate Business Consultant with CGI Information Systems and Management Consultants, a leading IT and business process services provider and is based in Mumbai. A passionate learner of Vedic hymns, Mani deems the five years spent at His University as the best thing to have happened in his life.
I clearly recall my Convocation from this Noble Institute. On that blessed day, I had the opportunity to chant the Vedic Hymn of Sishya anusasanamstating the code of discipline for students right at the start of the Convocation. I was fortunate to get this opportunity twice – once when I completed my B.Com and the second time when I completed my Masters in Financial Management. It goes like this: Vedamanuchyaachaaryo antevaasinamanusaasti, Satyam Vada, Dharmam Chara…. This is what is chanted by the Preceptor, the learned teacher worthy of the same reverence as God, to his students as a final tip when they have completed their education, graduated from their discipleship and are ready to embark on to the next stage of their life’s journey. The first sacred directive isSatyam Vada, Dharmam Chara, meaning 'Thou shalt speak the Truth and tread upon the path of Right conduct' - which is indeed the motto of our Institute as well.
As years have rolled on, with each life experience the inner and true significance of this profound Vedic injunction is slowly unfolding within my understanding. This realization is more an outcome of my translating it and applying it in my daily life than what I learned by rote for chanting at the Convocation.
It is not that I have always been truthful and that all my actions are righteous but there have been many instances where I can say, ‘Yes, I have done the right action and I have spoken what I should have spoken’. This self-confidence I attribute entirely to Bhagavan’s education and am forever grateful to Him for it.
I recall when I was being interviewed for a job by the head of an organization based in Western India; I was asked a question, "You seem to have come from a very noble place – where the ambience is very good, do you think you can adjust to the vagaries of the world?” I said, “I have to…” The next question was, “But will you be able to live up to your principles.” I said, “I have no doubt that I shall be able to do so.”
Falsehood = Fear; The Truth Shall Set You Free
As days rolled on, I realized it is going to be a tough job and I bumped into a friend of mine who said, “Look, why are you worried? You just need to tell the truth once, and after that, the other person is going to be scared, not you. But if you make a false statement, you will be scared for the rest of your life”. That sounded definitely brilliant and simple - a fair enough translation of the same significant and sensible translation of the Sathya Vada motto of my alma mater.
A few months after joining an organization in Western India, I found myself working as part of a team appraising the financing of a project. We were to make an investment – a big amount - in a foreign country, for which we were to take necessary clearances from the statutory authorities, which meant the Reserve Bank of India and the Ministry of Finance of the Central Government.
It was my job to do the arithmetic and the calculations. I was the junior most member of the team, with barely 3 to 4 months of work experience. The Reporting Officer (RO) had said: “You would be working on it” and I, obviously, felt happy. But at the back of my mind, I could really feel there are many others who are going to be unhappy with this. They had many years of experience backing them with more exposure than I had. I was the new kid on the block, so to say. Being included in a project of such significance invariably raised a few eyebrows among my colleagues.
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It was the time when we used Lotus 1-2-3 (a computer spreadsheet application) to generate all kinds of statements on reams of papers which were filled up with a hundreds of calculations. The most important indicator for appraising a project is the Return on Investment (ROI), which is measured in terms of percentage. Every calculation was driven by this significant factor.
A Project Appraisal Document (PAD) detailing the feasibility had to be prepared and submitted to different statutory bodies to obtain their approval. We had done a proper job in forecasting the ROI and then preparing the PAD. It had, in fact, gone through all kinds of reviews and our Board had approved it. Finally, we had submitted the PAD to the Reserve Bank of India, the country’s premier regulatory body, for seeking their clearance.
The following day, after submitting the PAD to RBI, we checked the calculations once again and I was in for a shock. I had made a big blunder in calculating the ROI, I realized. It had got inflated by around 20%. Originally, if it should have been 10%, then it was presented as 12%. These are not actual figures as they cannot be revealed, but this was a big mistake I had made, and I noticed this just before lunch time.
I went home for lunch but not even a single morsel of food went into my mouth. My mind was flooded with questions. What should I be doing? Should I confess? Or, should I just let it be, as most likely nobody might even notice it?
Blow the Whistle or Let It Pass?
After a short time, I decided what I should do: I was ready to face the consequences of speaking the truth. What made me strong in my resolve was an instance from my university days. Once Mr. Bhargava, who had been Chairman of Maruti Udyog Ltd ., on his visit to our college, had told us that he had once asked all his managers “How many of you have made mistakes, please raise your hands”. And no hands went up. Then he had said, “I am firing all of you, because if you have not made mistakes, then you have not taken any decisions”.
Also, just before I walked in, I recalled what Swami used to tell us, ‘Tell the Truth’. Yes, this is when I realized, I needed to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
So, I went to the RO and confessed: “Sir, this is where I have made a mistake”. I explained how I had gone wrong, but he wanted me to recheck, which I did, and convinced him about my mistake. He then went up to a top executive - who was at a very senior level in the Organisation hierarchy - to inform him that we had fumbled. The top executive then asked us to submit the revised PAD to the RBI and we went ahead with it. To be honest, I had a better sleep that night than I have had any other day. Actually, there was a bleak chance that anyone could have noticed the error, but for me that was not important; what was more significant is the act of owning up to what you have done - be it right or wrong. And once I had done that, I was confident, for I knew that I had done the right thing.
Righteousness Protects Those Who Abide By It
Later, I was given a higher responsibility. After about 2½ years, the same RO called me and said, ‘Look, we are in need of someone to handle our investments and I have not been able to get someone who is reliable. Let me know if you can commit to be with the organization for a longer period. If you can, then you would be moved to handle our investments. Otherwise, I will look for someone else. But be very honest; I give you half a day’s time to think”. I said, “I am ready, I am happy to do this job”. But later I asked him, “What made you feel that you can rely upon me?” He said, “The Institute where you were educated, and your forthrightness to admit a crucial oversight you had made.”
That episode was from 2 ½ years ago and I had felt people had lost confidence in me, but this unexpected vote of confidence was such a pleasant bolt from the blue! It was a true affirmation from Bhagavan Himself for my simple act of living the dictum Sathyam Vada, Dharmam Chara – for my humble attempt to speak the truth and tread the path of righteousness, primarily for my own clear conscience and peace of mind.
Soon I found myself handling huge investments worth thousands of crores of rupees for my employer. It is a given that when big bucks are involved, it’s very easy to get tempted to serve one’s individual interest. There are instances when you are investing and certain parties attempt to lure you with valuable and precious articles to solicit your business. That’s the kind of background in which one has to work, and my guiding principle as I waded my way through this swamp of temptations, was to tread only on the path of right conduct and uphold truth.
Coveting What Is Not Ours Is Unethical, No Matter What
One particular instance comes to mind readily. We used to receive interest on investments we made and we had big amounts of investments in one of the major Mutual Funds of our country. They had made an excess payment - a small amount - an excess dividend of Rs. 25,000/-, which is a paltry and insignificant amount, barely 0.0001% of our investment; but it certainly did not belong to us.
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When I noticed that we had received more than what we should have, I went up to my immediate boss and said, "Sir, there is an excess amount we have received of Rs. 25,000/-. We have already deposited the cheque in the bank and it is credited. We need to return the excess amount to the fund house.”
“Are you sure?” was his first question. I presented the calculations to him and he said to me, “Hey, check it once again”. I said, “They have made an excess payment." He said, “But how can I carry this message higher up the hierarchy?” “The way I came and told you, and if you are not going to, I am going to tell them.” He said, “Let me think over." I said, “You keep thinking, I am going in to see them…’.
I immediately walked in to the Head of our Department and explained to him what had happened. He too wanted me to recheck. When I convinced him on the facts of the case, grimaces on his face were evident. But I was firm that we should not be coveting what we do not own. Otherwise, I felt, there was no point in having listened to so many stories of the Ramayana, Mahabharata and of course, Swami’s discourses. Greed should not overpower us, be it at the corporate level or at the individual level, I said to myself. And eventually, the amount was refunded.
After two months, our organization received a letter from the Fund house, thanking us for having returned the amount. My boss called me and said: “This is for you; you are the true holder of this letter.” I preserved that letter for long, and cherished it way more than any other accolade. But my stories of triumphs with truth do not end here.
Vigilance Against Bribes Wrapped As Corporate Gifts
Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, is celebrated with much gaiety in India, but forgetting its spiritual significance, it has now become a season for offering bribes for favours in the form of ‘corporate gifts’ – a fine term that is used to make it sound all fair and acceptable.
On one occasion, someone tried to outsmart me. They sent me a corporate gift as a parcel that arrived at our company’s despatch department. The moment I saw it, I realized that it is not something meant for me, it’s a ‘corporate gift’. I told the staff to rush and return it to the sender.
Unfortunately the courier delivery personnel had left. I called up their office and told them they need to return the parcel. After long parleys of discussions, the courier office told me, “Sir, tomorrow when our person comes, please give it to him and he will carry it back.” Next day, the same delivery man came. He was smart enough, he said he will take it, but neatly ran out of the office without accepting it. I, then, sent it back but it returned! The drama went on for a week.
By now it was Friday. The person from our despatch section called me and said, “Look, I am going to escalate the matter.” His tone suggested that it was a threat and he was irritated with my stand to return the corporate gift to the sender. I stood my ground and I said, “Please… by all means”.
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That’s where I could keep my head high because I knew I had done nothing wrong. We went up to the Admin manager and I explained the situation. “Look Sir, this is a corporate gift that has come over,” I said.
Before that there was another conversation that I had with my immediate boss who said, “What’s wrong in accepting it?” “ I just care that it is not right and that’s it. I have told you. I have not come here for your permission; it’s for your information. You need to know what’s happening and I am not accepting it,” I told him and walked out of his room. He was perplexed.
Returning to the Admin Manager, when I explained the whole story he asked, “What are its contents”. I said, “I have not looked at it. I have not touched it and I don’t care what the contents are.” He looked up to the dispatch person and said, “We may accept this as a gift to the organization.”
But, it was in my personal name. “What do you feel about it?”, he asked. I said, “I just know one thing: I am not going to accept it or even touch it.” And then pleasantries were exchanged to close the discussion. I got up from my chair and was walking out of his chamber. Just when I was opening the latch of the door, the Admin Manager, who had been in the organisation for over 23 years and had just 2-3 months to retire, started saying something. I looked back and he said: “I thought people who live up to their principles had drastically reduced in this organization. But this particular deed of yours, proved me wrong. I am feeling happy that those who stick to their values and do the right thing are still around. I am really feeling happy about it.”
Was it a Coincidence or Absolutely His Work?
I nodded my head and as I turned my head to leave, my eyes caught the date on the calendar. It was November 23! Ah, the joy of having done the right thing on such a holy day!
My attempt to practice the motto of my university, namely, Satyam Vada, Dharmam Chara may have been minor and simple. Yet they mean the world to me in my personal growth, just as every nut and bolt is crucial for the success of a rocket launch.
Certainly, these few incidents have shown me that when we are on the right path, we will be endowed with the self control needed to keep us from derailing from the right path. Maybe I should be asking Bhagavan for bhakti or devotion as once He had told us, “Ask forbhakti, I will give you shakti and mukti, and maybe yukti as well’. For, in devotion lie the virtues of strength, freedom and wisdom. Today, I realize, one definitely needs that gift of inner strength from Bhagavan to pursue the path of truth and righteousness - of Satyam Vada, Dharmam Chara - the benediction from the Supreme Teacher as His parting advice to each of us, His students, at the time of our Convocation from the Sri Sathya Sai University.
Illustrations: Mr. Madhusudan Rao Naidu
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