Updated: Apr 1, 2020
16th December is synonymous with Pakistan’s surrender in 1971 that led to the creation of Bangladesh. For the more curious, The Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai opened its doors on this day in 1908; a full list of events can be found here. But to me it is the day on which I was born.
Over the years the day has left me with mixed feelings. As a kid I recall this as the day I didn’t have to wear the uniform to school. As a teenager it was a day of excitement heavily focused on gifts I received. As a student in America it was a depressing day because the day made me feel alone and depressed. The last two decades have been a roller coaster ride of which the last 5+ have been a very humbling experience. I have come to accept this day as important to many more than just myself. It is also the day that I credit with the most learning in a single day.
My daughter growing up to be a teenager and me taking the chair of MD & CEO of SAGE India, this day has taken on a whole new meaning for the world around me. At home my daughter is excited about shopping for gifts and wishing me at the stroke of midnight. I fight sleep because I know this is important and exciting for her. The other change is at work.
It began with flowers in 2005 when I first joined SAGE as the Deputy MD. It grew into an event where departments started an unannounced competition amongst themselves in trying to get me gifts. I had to intervene and stop them all from bringing me gifts. It wasn’t easy for me to turn them away because I know people spent a lot of time and effort in choosing them for me. But I knew I had to take a stand and ensure people didn’t focus on material gifts to express their feelings. They have responded creatively surprising me and leaving me speechless. The experiences also taught me how shallow some gestures can be.
There was one person who for many years showed up at my house, at dawn, on my birthday. He would come armed with a bouquet of flowers. He stated that he didn’t come to wish his CEO, he came to pay his respects to his teacher. When he quit the company, he instantly quit his teacher too! There have been many others who expressed similar sentiments only to forget them once they had moved elsewhere. All of them taught me the value of my genuine well-wishers and friends.
This year (again), I was moved by the thoughtfulness of many. My colleagues whom I work closely with, took great pains at tricking me into parting with information. They used it creatively to mark my birthday. This was on Friday 14th December. They didn’t want to wait till the 17th, the next working day for us.
The next to surprise me was the marketing team. A person had baked a cake for me. Others from the department custom made a pop-up/slide-out birthday card. They sourced pictures of my daughter, my dog and things that I love, to create a collage within a 4” x 4” card. I was speechless.
On the night of the 15th at around 10:30 pm I received a message from a very junior employee. She moved me to tears with her emotional message. I knew she respected me a lot, but I hadn’t fathomed how much. There was another surprise in store for me when I met her on Monday. Her colleague revealed to me that the message was sent ahead of my birthday because the sender was concerned her pre-paid balance would expire at midnight! She wasn’t sure if she would get a recharge done in time to wish me. Like my daughter it was very important for this person to wish me at the stroke of midnight.
When morning arrived, the doorbell rang earlier than usual for a Sunday; at my door were flower bouquets. And there was a surprise. I received a basket of fruits. I was touched by the thoughtfulness of both the flowers and the fruits. To me the gift of food is perhaps the greatest of all.
I am on a couple of Social Media platforms, LinkedIN being one of them. Over the next two days I received and personally acknowledged hundreds of messages wishing me. Most of them I had never met and to me they were individuals in my network. But they made it special by reaching out to me. I know I have said this in the past but even today, I remain baffled at how many make the effort to wish me.
Since it was a Sunday I was soon at the squash court. I was greeted by a friend of mine who was well aware of my ‘no gifts policy’. He reached into his car and handed me a food container. He stated that since I wasn’t accepting gifts, he had made his version of ‘Butter Chicken’ for me. He outlined how he had sourced the ingredients and then how his wife and he had jointly cooked this for me. The lump in my throat went away only when I ate it for lunch.
Throughout Sunday there were emails, phone calls and messages. I lost count on the total I received and responded to. In fact, I missed so many calls that I had to answer them the next day.
On the 17th when it should have been a quiet day, I continued to receive gifts. A dear friend thoughtfully brought me a token of affection in the form of a small toy of the Star Wars’ character, Darth Vader and a mug with a message from Yoda.
The commissioning department stopped by my room to gift me a card signed by each one of them and also gave me a picture of me with all of them at a company off-site.
I generally bring cake for the company and this year I decided to do something different; I ordered mithai (Indian sweets) of a particular type. I used to bring these when we were a smaller company. Many colleagues reminded me of this sweet and told me they missed it. That day this sweet was served at lunch time. Post lunch I saw a bunch of young colleagues around our reception area. One of them spontaneously thanked me (for the mithai). Another one who was with her complained that she was looking forward to chocolate cake and didn’t particularly care for the mithai. I smiled and thanked her for the feedback. The next morning this young colleague met me at the coffee machine and was visibly anxious. She apologised profusely for her comment of the previous day. I laughed. I escorted her to my assistant’s desk where sat a chocolate cake. I told her that I was so touched by her candid feedback that I brought a cake to the office.
The entire Dehradun office signed on a giant card and sent it to me. It reached me 5 days after my birthday. The HR and Admin team too signed and handed over a card to me. But alongside they remembered what I love a lot - rasgullas from Gopala. I don't even know how to react to this because it is so overwhelming.
Perhaps the most unique gift that I have ever received is to have a star named after me. Yes, you read it right, there is now a star in the heavens and it is named Vivek. I received a certificate from the Global Star Registry letting me know that I now had a star in the constellation Hydra and it was named after me.
All these gestures made me forget the ones who had forgotten me that day. As my birthday drifted further away, I reflected on my experiences. I thanked God for my good fortune and for all the love he sent my way.
Think of the word RICH and people like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Richard Branson come to mind. Closer to home Mukesh Ambani has been in the news with his opulent wedding. The measure of RICH is measured by wealth possessed by an individual and that is a fundamentally universal measure. But the days around my birthday remind me that I am a rich man too.
Rich because of the love and adulation I receive.
Rich because I learn of how many lives I touch.
Rich because even if it all went away, I have the wealth of beautiful memories that will never leave me.
My sincere gratitude to all who thought about me. I thank you for giving me so many beautiful memories to cherish. I am humbled once again.