‘What inspires you?’ is more difficult question to answer than ‘who inspires you.’ Ask me ‘who inspires you’ and I will reel out a long list of cricketers, authors, playwrights, actors, and singers.
But ask me ‘what inspires you’ and I will look like a passenger who is waiting for his train which is running late; anxious, a bit confused and searching for an answer.
When you have a question on mind, the universe conspires to provide you an answer. This ‘conspiracy of universe’ theory is a popular explanation to anything fuzzy, difficult to explain. Be that as it may, the point is that I experienced the conspiracy of the universe. In a span of a week, I got many clues to what inspires me.
The visit to Atul at Vapi was decided rather hurriedly. Their hospitality was impeccable. As I arrived at their Guest House, I noticed a beautiful play of light and shade. Out came my camera, I mean my mobile, and I clicked this photograph and looked up the result. A kind of energy wave hit me.
“Inspiration does exist, but it must find you working” I told myself this famous quote of Pablo Picasso.
Then arrived Ms. Swatiben Lalbhai to meet me. A diminutive lady of pleasant disposition, she took me to the ‘Inspiring Centre.’ (For those who do not know, the building is actually called so.) It is a simple structure which has ‘posters’ of Mr. Kasturbhai Lalbhai on the walls. Kasturbhai was a visionary; he was clearly ahead of his time. Swatiben explained his life mentioning many stories which are well known but not written on the posters.
Why do life stories inspire us? We wish to leave a mark on the world around us. We wish to leave behind a legacy, something that the next generations can follow to become successful. In the life story of Kasturbhai, or any inspiring life story, we see leaving a legacy is achievable, it’s possible! We often under-rate ourselves, and the life stories ask us to reexamine that assessment. Life stories tell us that we grossly underestimate our own potential.
That realization is the spark that lights a lamp.
Within seven days of my Atul visit, I landed at Vapi again. I was accompanying the CEO of TIDE (NGO), which is the acronym of Tribal Integrated Development & Education Trust. TIDE has projects in 16 states. Their work covers a few thousand villages.
We halted at a village. I entered a hut, about 8ft x 8ft in size where an old couple lived. Both appeared to be in their eighties. The man made a feeble attempt to stand; it was painful for him to stand up. There was a small Chula in a corner. The lady had prepared food (which she showed) and which would not have been sufficient for the two. They had no means of earning except by working in the fields. The TIDE representative assured them of immediate assistance.
This was a wake-up call. I felt helpless much like the old man and his wife. I knew something had to be done, not just to alleviate their poverty because there were several with the same fate like the old couple, in the Dang District. When you see abject poverty, you want to do something to solve the problem; leaving a legacy is not on your mind. Then one cools down, finds ways of doing something constructive for the benefit of the downtrodden and you do not stop at mere financial assistance.
This urge to do constructive work is, in quality, much different from the inspiration one gets from life-stories of great men and women. Perhaps there is a sense of social responsibility, or perhaps a sense of guilt. I am not sure. You are shocked by the misery, and you feel the need to act immediately. Karl Marx rightly said, ‘Misery motivates, not utopia.’
We travelled long distance to meet a group of paramedics. About fifty of them, mostly all women. They were waiting for us. The CEO had a way of engaging them in lighthearted conversation which everyone enjoyed. Then he asked questions to test their knowledge of symptoms of common diseases. Surprisingly, all answers were right.
Each paramedic had undergone training to identify common diseases. And they also offer medicines which are available as OTC medicines or non-prescription medicines. They keep a diary in which they record their work. The paramedics told me that they treat three to four patients a day! Simple idea but extremely effective.
India has one of the lowest numbers of paramedics per 10,000 people at 15.8 workers, making its position lower than South Africa, Thailand, and Sri Lanka.
TIDE has a novel way of getting people involved to identify certain diseases in their community.
Three sources of inspiration for me – First, Life stories of persons who have achieved ‘primary greatness’. To quote Stephen Covey, (Quote) ‘Primary greatness, is open to everyone. Every single person can have it; there are no bell-curve limits. Primary greatness has to do with a person’s integrity, work ethic, treatment of others, motives, and level of initiative. It has also to do with a person’s character, contributions, talents, creativity, and discipline. It represents who people are – every day – as opposed to what they own or temporary achievements.
Secondary greatness has to do with positions or titles, awards, wealth, fame rankings or rare accomplishments. Almost by any definition, secondary greatness can only be attained by a select few, an extremely small percentage of a population. Secondary greatness is largely determined by comparing one person against another.’ (Unquote)
Kasturbhai Lalbhai was clearly in the primary greatness class.
Second source of inspiration to do meaningful work comes from the shock of witnessing the human misery. Witnessing misery is inescapable while we visit the villages. Such cases may be around us in the cities too. But we open our eyes as well as mind when we visit the villages. And the dilemma of offering immediate help versus providing help by creating support system confronts us.
The Third source of inspiration comes when we see that a system is created to solve a problem, like training the paramedics and ensuring that patients receive immediate attention. It also comes when we see that the women feel empowered, and their social status goes up when they serve the society by acquiring a skill set.
Finally, the words of St Francis of Assisi – ‘Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.’ That is what NGOs do. That is the TIDE story as well as of Kasturbhai Lalbhai.
And that is the way to ‘create’ inspiration for us.
PS: Dr Joseph George A, my friend, mentioned that the correct (St Francis of Assisi) idiom is ‘“Start with what’s possible. The impossible takes care of itself”. I had picked up the idiom from internet source, obviously incorrect.
Vivek S Patwardhan
“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”