“Why! something happened at work today nani?”, smiled Grandma. “No I mean, not just today, as I interact with more people, and have all these meetings, I get that feeling…how should I explain to you…”, Hari tried to collect his thoughts.
“…for instance, you told me that integrity and being truthful should not be compromised, of course one should learn how to convey…right…you said that, didn’t you?”, asked Hari. “I sure did…”, came the reply, “…have this first and we will talk more…”, Grandma offered a coconut laddu. “Oh yes! this helps, thanks granny”.
“Well sometimes, I feel that speaking out is being taken as disrespect…and a few from my team also tell me that they don’t want to get into conflict, so they keep quiet…”, Hari spoke quickly, as if he was afraid someone from his team will listen to this complaint.
Grandma gave a broad smile, “…I also told you that your generation tends to misinterpret the reactions and reach conclusions too soon. You should not give up on each other so soon. If you do an activity with sincerity and with no mal-intent, people will get it eventually. Even if the activity is speaking up and speaking out what you think, do it often, and make people understand that that’s who you are by nature, instead of getting bottled up and not sharing what you think is right. It may be so that sometimes, what you think is right, may not be so. And then if someone counters you, and proves that your understanding is wrong, you should be open to accept it. Focus should be on the task at hand and not on what someone is thinking about you…”
“Hmm…I guess it needs some getting used to. My previous team was different, and now this is a new group, and here I think people are slightly weird…anyway…”, Hari paused again. “Something else bothering you? and by the way, all my stories are very practical, one just needs to develop the courage to apply those morals. But this time, let me narrate a true incident instead of a story. Or is my audience less interested in real incidents?”, she winked looking at Hari’s sister entering the room. “…I think that’s even better, granny”, Hari chipped in before she could respond. “But I love your adventure stories more”, complained Jyoti, Hari’s sister.
“Well here goes, I heard this incident from my grandfather about an agricultural land dispute that happened in their village at his time…pass me some water dear”, she asked Jyoti and narrated the following incident.
My grandfather was a sarpanch (Head of a few villages grouped together in that precinct) and was highly regarded and loved by the people even from the surrounding villages. He encouraged open discussions and promoted self-governance as much as practically possible. He used to say to my father, “…always give your people freedom to speak in front of you. Never judge of crucify them for challenging your judgement, spend time to convince and encourage discussion. Allowing people to contribute and share is a very good way to make them feel connected with the larger problem, and even if the problems are not always solved, it will give them a sense of accomplishment, for having been heard, and attempting the solutions”.
“…adventure story granneeee….”, Jyoti let out a big yawn and closed her eyes. Gradma and Hari smiled at each other. She continued with the narration softly, patting Jyoti gently as the kid slept in her lap. “Very interesting granny, please continue, there is inspiration for me in this real story as much as in every story of yours”, Hari pleaded.
There was a dispute on the boundaries of the agricultural lands that overlapped with another region, and how the water supply from the river should be handled. A meeting was called to go through the facts and settle this and the Sarpanch of the other village came by to my grandfathers village along with a large group of his people. They agreed to meet at the square, hear out each other’s arguments, and take a fair decision agreeable to both parties.
I recollect the name of the other sarpanch was Sankarappa, and he was a well respected, but also most feared sarpanch in his region. “Who will speak from your side Ramaiah?”, he demanded my grandfather. “What is that so important? Okay, I will ask Raju to present our side of the facts”, he said. “Is he your son? Son-in-law? Can he talk well, I will be one taking up our case”, Sankarappa looked at his village elders and spoke in a rude tone.
“He is the farmer that is most impacted by our dispute, he understands the problem, and also the facts around the matter, we will all support him and you as well if we get to the understanding that you are correct, and we have misunderstood the situation to start with”, replied my grandfather, “..let me narrate our understanding first and I will ask Raju to share his concerns with us all..”, he added. “Very well Ramaiah, we shall see, I was expecting this to be a discussion between two sarpanchs in power, have not come all the way to speak to a farmer”, Sankarappa showed his frustration.
As Ramaiah, my grandfather tried to describe the boundaries of the lands and the consumption of the river water, Raju and some other farmers cut in between to add a few minor details, and then described in detail on how the water should be diverted, and how this will benefit Sankarappa’s village as well. “In my village, we don’t speak out of turn, don’t disrespect your sarpanch by speaking out of turn”, he yelled at Raju and others.
“Sir, in our village it is quite common to speak freely. By saying what we said, we didn’t disrespect our sarpanch, in fact we will never disrespect him even if we have to lose our lives, we just did what he always encouraged us to do”, said Somu another farmer.
I remember my grandfather telling me that through the day there was a heated discussion and from Sankarappa’s side only he was speaking, and a couple of other village elders who were adding in between based on his cues. Whereas from my grandfather’s side, the farmers spoke freely, for each other, and presented all aspects, some of them challenged every detail presented by Sankarappa, and corrected his understanding.
As the group broke for a late lunch organized by my grandfather, our village folk took utmost care of everyone from Sankarappa’s village, and ensured that they are properly fed, before they took their own lunch.
“First you humiliate us and then you enact so much care and concern, what is this ploy?”, Sankarappa questioned my grandfather.
“We were respecting you when we challenged you, and we are respecting you when we are serving you sir“, said Raju, “…we are taught by our Sarpanch that if we don’t tell the truth, and support the opinion of the leader for fear or favor, that is real disrespect. Here in our village we don’t put boundaries on who should be respected, we respect everyone, even the disabled. But when it comes to challenging what is not right, we don’t hold back. It is not a sign of disrespect”, he added.
By the end of that day Sankarappa and his village elders not only agreed to the facts presented by Raju and other farmers, but also understood that by encouraging everyone to participate in the problem, my grandfather prepared all of them to understand the problem, explore the facts thoroughly, and present what is right for both parties. “I fell in love with your governance dear sir, I would like you to coach me and my elders to learn your ways of dealing with village affairs. I heard some stories of your village and your ways, but this dispute has given me first hand experience”, Sankarappa said before he took leave.
“But it is not always easy to put forth your points, isn’t it granny? I mean, what if I don’t have answers, but only questions, what if it is not my problem to solve…and things like that…”, asked Hari.
“Every place – workplace or otherwise – will have it’s etiquette nani – the said or unsaid ways of dealing with matters – that needs to be understood. Once you take a note of this, then you may also take advice from your peers or others, especially when you start in a new place. Having said that, there is no reason to subdue your thought process if you think it is appropriate for the discussion at hand. Experience will teach you how well to articulate it, but only if you are willing to practice…on the other hand, not sharing your ideas will only dry them out eventually, and you will make a habit of not participating, even mentally. That is even more dangerous. That is another thing my grandfather used to say – ‘…make it easy for everyone to come to the table, and they will eventually become better men, they will learn…‘”
“And what if I end up with a set up which is not wiling to listen?”, Hari winked.
“Ugh! jumping to conclusions again! you should fundamentally believe that people are good, all of them. No one willfully tries to carry malicious intent, and subdue others. It is possible that sometimes they are misguided, entertain the thoughts of illusion of control over everything, and feel insecure if others don’t obey. But keep making sincere attempts, to understand and be understood, it works…if it isn’t working, try harder, don’t give up easy, else you will miss your learning.“
“I wish we had more people like your grandfather, don’t you think granny?”
“Why do you think they are not there? Look hard enough and you will find them, and you also strive to be an enabling person in your team, as you grow up, and…now…”, she looked intently. “Yes, I get it, it is getting late, thanks for narrating your grandfather’s story granny, I like him very much, good night”.