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What My Grandmother’s Death Taught Me About How A Life Is Really Measured

Build a life résumé, not just a career one.

29/08/2017 9:02 AM IST | Updated 29/08/2017 1:52 PM IST
Manu Rishi Guptha

Recently, as I was sifting through the ashes of my grandmother trying to find the last few solid pieces of bone (to be taken to Haridwar to be immersed in the Ganges per Hindu tradition), I reflected on the purpose of life, on the way human beings are judged and how life is really so short. When we are born we weigh about 3kg (7lbs), and the lifeless pieces of bone that get left behind are also about 3kg.

Some gut feeling encouraged me to visit my grandmother during the last week of her life and I spent a few precious hours with Biji (as we fondly addressed her). Her favourite topics of conversation hadn't changed in years. Worrying about the unmarried, the unwell and the childless in the family. At 88, she had an elephant's memory and a sharp mind. She treated the welfare of her six brothers, four daughters, their kids, and about 100 souls on her direct radar as her God-given responsibility.

She had an almost perfect set of "eulogy virtues"—clearly visible in the moist eyes of the 350-odd people who came to bid her a final goodbye.

The futility of her worries almost always irked all her grandchildren. We'd then make fun and laugh and she'd get annoyed. But what a towering personality she had. Everyone respected her, was even scared of her. And then one day she didn't wake up. Passed away peacefully. And emotionally orphaned so many of us.

At the funeral I was overwhelmed to see over 350 people who travelled major distances for this 88-year-old woman and that's when I got some rather significant life lessons.

Your 'life résumé' transcends your 'career résumé'

In this short and insignificant life (on which I wrote a piece earlier) and on your last day on earth, no one will judge you for the car you drove, or the size of the house you built or the money you made. People will remember you for the love and affection that you left behind and the respect you garnered through your deeds.

We fret way too much over updating our career résumés and LinkedIn profiles. All of this is important as a small means to an end and in the 80-year runway that a human being has, but don't lose sight for a second of your life résumé.

The only thing that matters (as David Brook says) is the "obituary/eulogy virtues."

This 88-year-old partially educated woman had weathered the Partition of India, lost her husband at 44, a son when he was 38, and had lived hand to mouth for much of her life. Yet she had an almost perfect set of "eulogy virtues"—clearly visible in the moist eyes of the 350-odd people who came to bid her a final goodbye.

Build a metaphoric Taj Mahal

Does anyone remember Babur in 1526 and how the Mughal Empire was established? In the years between 1526 and 1857 art, architecture, language, textile, shipbuilding and steel-making was so evolved that by 1750, India produced 25% of the world's industrial output. Yet what symbolises that era more than anything else is Shah Jahan'sTaj Mahal built in 1632, despite all the architectural advancements since that time. It's pertinent to note that Shah Jahan died a prisoner, not able to fully appreciate his creation, but the rest of the world still does.

People who compromise on principles and values die every single day in the already limited time they have on earth.

Fact is, you will be remembered if you create a Taj Mahal (symbolic). Else you are just whiling away time in a futile hope to leave a mark. For longevity after you're gone, an achievement must be somehow transcendent. Bill and Melinda Gates will be remembered for their contribution in eradicating many diseases more than for Microsoft. Anyone who judges you on a so-called QOQ or YOY and anyone who feels pressured by the same is just misguided.

Would anyone remember the stock price of Amazon or Apple, 50 years from now? Present innovations and technologies will be obsolete in less than 50 years and most of the companies and human beings alive today will be dead.

It amuses me when I hear of jargon such as "wealth creation", "competitive advantage" etc etc. It's all so shallow and meaningless.

Endeavour to do something remarkable that will last beyond a quarter or a year or 10 years. When collectively each one of us on this planet endeavours to create a symbolic Taj Mahal, many Taj Mahals will eventually come up.

Don't live in grey areas

My grandmother operated her life in a binary manner—pass/fail, good/bad, right/wrong. It surprises me that everything in the present world is grey nowadays. He is good but, he is right but, we should do this but, I agree with you but let me come back to you...

In this short life, have the courage to stand by your values and convictions. People who compromise on principles and values die every single day in the already limited time they have on earth.

I will miss you Biji—you led a simple and graceful life and your death taught me the resume I would want to build in life.

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