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“The Best Advice I Ever Got” was the cover story of the September 2012 issue of Business Today – a leading magazine focussed on India Inc. 50 of this country's biggest corporate czars wrote about the advice that worked for them – powerful slices from their life which has shaped their personalities and dreams.

N. R. Narayana Murthy (Chairman Emeritus, Infosys) obviously was among the top in the list. “I will just talk about one important lesson I learnt from one of my favourite teachers,” he writes. “The teacher who influenced me most as a high school student was Mr. K. V. Narayan (KVN), the head master of Sarada Vilas High School, Mysore, where I did my 10th and 11th years of high school. KVN was a tough taskmaster, a disciplinarian, and expected a lot from his students. But outside school, he was kind and affectionate. He taught us chemistry in my final year. I sat in the front bench in his class.

“One day, he was demonstrating an experiment for which
he needed to put some common salt into a test tube. He was extremely careful about how much salt he put in, and took quiet some time to optimise the amount. My friend, who was sitting next to me, found it amusing and burst out laughing. 

"KVN stopped the experiment, asked my friend to stand up and explain why he laughed. My friend was very honest and said he was amused at how stingy he was in using salt for the experiment. Even today I remember KVN's words: 

'Children, I want you all to learn one important lesson. That is, this country became a slave nation because we all looked after our families and not our society. Therefore, it is very important for every one of us to treat what belongs to our community much more carefully than what belongs to our family. This salt belongs to the school and I have to be very careful how much I use. Please come to my house and I will give you a large quantity of salt.'”

Mr. Murthy concludes with the words, “In my opinion, this is the most important advice for every Indian – particularly for politicians, businessmen and bureaucrats, who violate this rule so blatantly day after day.”

And why do they violate it? For many reasons. Gecko, a crafty, unscrupulous yet dashing financier from the movie Wall Street (1984) with his signature line “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good” became one of the most memorable characters of US cinematic history. 

Unfortunately it led many to believe that a swelling bank account is all you need for a satisfying life. But those who are wise by good chance (thanks to their upbringing) or have become wise after riding through the rigorous rigmarole of life (seasoned set of been-there-done-that people) know that fulfillment lies elsewhere.

Mr. Vivek Naidu, currently Vice President, Private Banking, Barclays Bank in Chennai, was in another prestigious multinational bank where the economic world suddenly came crashing down in 2009.

And his company then ordered finance executives like him to pull the plug on hundreds of clients who were dependent on this bank – this meant atleast a 1000 families would have the sky fall on their heads. “That was just intolerable for me. Swami does not teach us that,” says Vivek, an alumnus of Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning. 

And so for the next whole year he went about organising alternate finance for each of his bank's clients – all in his personal capacity. “In that one year, I recovered Rs. 100 crores (close to US $ 25 million).” “You are crazy... this is none of our business,” his colleagues chided him. 

“Maybe,” he replied, “But it is extremely satisfying for me when at the end you know that you haven't hurt anybody's life and you haven't put anyone to hardship. As it is, greed has put a lot of people through this mess.”

And Vivek is not the only one. I know of many.

Another alumnus from the same university is Mr. P. S. Gunaranjan, Founder Director of yousee.in – a developmental finance idea that in December 2009 was shortlisted in a global competition on “Marketplace on Innovative Financial Solutions for Development” (MIL) organised by the World Bank, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the French Development Agency. It was among the 20 commendable organisations out of 800 applications received globally and showcased at the MIL conference held in Paris on March 4-5, 2010.

The assets of Gunaranjan's fledgling company maybe close to a million rupees today but his only possessions literally are two pairs of clothes and a small bag of basic needs. It may sound strange and too idealistic to be true but that is what it is. “There are thousands in this country who do not even have this much,” says Gunaranjan. 

“For me, it is absolutely fulfilling and yes, exciting – everyday is a surprise! I do not know from where my next meal is going to come from. Baba gave me high quality education for nearly 20 years absolutely free – no strings attached. The only way I can translate this learning in my life is by ensuring that more and more children of this country are not deprived of these fundamental needs – education, a clean environment, and so on. And I love to lead by example.”

Whether anybody else has taken heed to Narayana Murthy's advice or not, many Vivek Naidus and Gunaranjans from the Sai University seem to be putting them to action, quite seriously.

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