Authors: Om Swami
Over dinner one night, David said, 'I think you’re meant for a bigger role, Amit. They are underutilizing you at News.'
'You think so?'
'Yes, you should be heading an organization and not just projects.'
This was David’s style. No matter how important the information, he always delivered it casually. There was no way of knowing if it was a spontaneous remark or if he had given it serious thought beforehand.
'Do you have something in mind?'
'You should meet, Greg,' he said.
'He makes technology blueprints for large organizations and needs someone like you.' That was all he said.
Two days later, he introduced me to Dr. Gregory Uppington. A PhD in enterprise integration and an IT veteran, Greg’s humility was unearthly. Greg and I connected from the moment we first shook hands, and we went on to become close friends. He specialized in large-scale systems integration and was working as the chief information officer (CIO) for a start-up called Industry Wide Networks (IWN). He mentioned they were really struggling and desperately needed a sharp chief technology officer (CTO). Greg wanted me to take on that role.
I met with the CEO, Daniel Hilson or Dan as he was called. I loved his product and vision. They were using cutting-edge technologies and working on a data aggregation product way ahead of its time. After a series of interviews with Dan and his team, the company’s board grilled me for three hours after offering me just a glass of water and before agreeing to my expectation of a quarter-million-dollar package.
The executive team at News Corp was not pleased to see my resignation. They tried to hold me back with more money and argued that I had numerous options at News. But what they didn't have for me was the enormous challenge that IWN's product had. Apart from the product they were working on, I was really attracted to Dan’s vision and entrepreneurial traits. Here was a young CEO, in his early thirties, running his own show. I could learn much from him, I thought.
Within the first three days at IWN, I had studied their systems documentation, examined the software architecture and the systems design, glanced over the coding and identified the gaps. I came to a disturbing realization: the vision was great but the product wasn't as complicated or complex as they had made it out to be. There was no way it could absorb eight to ten hours of my time daily; an hour each day would do the job. I could not justify receiving such high salary.
I shared my findings with Dan and said, 'I don't think you need me full-time, Dan.'
'How you mean?'
'Well, I can guide the team and steer the product development by giving it just one hour daily. There's nothing for me for the remaining seven hours.'
He seemed intrigued by my statement and shook his head slightly. Perhaps he thought I was going to resign. A few moments passed in that uncomfortable silence.
'What do you suggest?' he asked finally.
'I can build a consulting division for you. Let me bring in revenues so I may pay for my own salary.’
He nodded in appreciation. A few days after our conversation, he scheduled a meeting with the world’s biggest shopping mall company, Westfield. It was perfect timing. They were running a multimillion-dollar e-commerce project but were struggling with the delivery and integration. They gave us a seven-figure contract on the condition that I was going to be available to them full-time. I juggled between the two roles, leading the project at Westfield and handling the product team at IWN as their CTO. My employer continued to be IWN. I was pleased to generate revenue many times more than my salary.
This was 2000. I had landed in Australia in 1998 and had struggled to find a job that would pay me anything at all. Two years later, at twenty, I was sitting on an executive technology-management role with a more than decent salary package. Was this just due to my hard work? It would be foolish to think so. A transcendental element of grace was always there. Otherwise, there was no dearth of people who worked harder than I did and who were smarter than I was, but didn’t find such success.
In July that year, Rajan and my mother decided to visit me. They hadn’t seen me in two years. I wanted to take my mother around, and thought of buying a car. One weekend, David and I stopped by the Saab showroom. We stood around for fifteen minutes, which felt like an eternity, hoping someone would come around to attend to us. Finally, a young man came over.
'Hi guys,' the salesman said. ‘How can I help?’
When I asked for a test drive, he said there were no cars available.
I was taken aback at his indifferent attitude. Was he not interested in making a sale? I handed out my business card. His body language changed instantly. He said brightly, 'Should I see if there’s a car for a test drive?'
'Tell you what,’ I said, 'come and see me in my office, instead. Bring a demo car and the paperwork.'
'What time would suit you, Mr Sharma?' He shifted his gaze from the business card to me.
'11 a.m. Monday.'
'I’ll be there.'
On Monday, when I was test-driving, he told me that he was the youngest in the dealership and the seniors had sent him to attend to us because they didn’t think we were there to buy. It was raining lightly. I felt this was symbolic of Grace. Otherwise, how could someone who had winced at the thought of boarding a bus because the fare was $2 just two years ago now buy a convertible that was nearly $70,000? Grace.
I wanted to spend that money for my mother. I loved her in a way I loved no one else. It was not possible to ever repay her for the sacrifices she had made for me, the countless nights she had stayed awake with me when I was suffering from asthma and the way she had always stood by my side. It was not part of her job description to support my sadhana or my interest in astrology, chess, books and other things, but she had. I wanted her to have the best time in Sydney.
I did up my flat, buying new furniture, bed linen and toiletries. I stocked the fridge and the kitchen with all kinds of food items and bought gleaming new pots and pans for her. Finally, I drove to the airport to pick them up in my new car.
As soon as I saw my mother, I touched her feet, hugged her tight, kissed her cheeks. I hugged Rajan too. I was thrilled to see them.
'You've lost a lot of weight,' she said. 'You must be working hard at the cost of your health.'
'You've already started worrying!' I exclaimed.
'Now that I'm here for three months, I'll feed you well.'
'Tell me, Ma, do you like my new car?' I pressed a button and the roof folded into the trunk. 'I bought it for you.'
'May God bless you with much more,' she said. 'And may you always—'
'What about me, Amit?' Rajan interjected jokingly. 'I think I'll have better use of this car than our mother here.'
Ma was rather quiet in the car while Rajan was excited and chatty. I talked about the socio-economic system in Australia, the clean roads, my studies, my company and everything else I could think of. For every one of my statements, Rajan had ten questions.
Later that night, I asked my mother what was on her mind. She said, 'I know you had told me about your successes here over the phone but, after seeing it all with my own eyes, I don't have enough words to thank God. I'm feeling so content.'
In response, I just put my head at her feet. 'It's all because of your blessings, Ma.'
Her eyes filled with tears.
My mother loved her time in Australia and spent three months with me. It was one of the most memorable periods of my life because, for the first time, I was hosting my mother. And because she showered the love, care and blessings that only a mother could. She fed me a hearty breakfast every day and I came home to a delicious dinner at night. When I drove to work in the mornings, she would give me a pouch of freshly peeled almonds so I could eat them on the way while driving. As I left the house, she would come out with me to say bye. This was the first time in Australia that someone cared enough to see me off and wait at home for me when I returned. In the past two years, I had almost forgotten that I was not a machine but a human being. Her little caring gestures made me feel human again.
In those days, I was putting in long hours at work. There were times I came home only to sleep, but my mother never complained. I was unable to show her around the city in the way that I had wanted because I was always pressed for time, but she never made me feel guilty. 'I'm just happy to see you happy,' she would say.
One day, while I was sitting with her and talking about life in Australia, I said, 'Don't get me wrong, Ma. I love it here. This country has offered me so much but, to tell you the truth, my heart is not here.'
'Why, Amit, what's the matter?'
I opened up to her and told her how I missed putting those hours into my meditation, how I wanted to further my sadhana but just didn't have the time. I understood the role of education and I wasn't discounting the importance of money, but this was certainly not going to be the totality of my life. My goal had always been, and still remained, God.
'I wish to lead a more spiritual life one day,' I said.
'Whatever gives you happiness,' she said softly. 'I just know you’ll never make a thoughtless move.'
I wasn’t surprised at her acceptance of my statement. Nor did she encourage me to hanker after more money or status. She had always been ever supportive and understanding, as if she knew my innermost feelings.
While we were talking, Rajan walked into the room and said, 'You guys always scare me with your serious conversations!’ I grinned at him. ‘Ma, how come you always say yes to whatever Amit says?'
Ma just smiled but he was right. Beyond our temporary disagreements on minor issues, there had never been any conflict in my relationship with my mother. It could be because she never really opposed me or because she understood me completely, or both.
Rajan interrupted my flow of thoughts as he started mimicking a couple of Australians he had met that day. I had a hearty laugh because that was not how they spoke at all but, coming from Rajan, every word was comedic.
Before we knew it, it was time for our mother to go back to India. Rajan stayed back as he had been sponsored by a company and now had a work visa. After she left, I felt terrible because I had barely spent time with her. She had not come here to see my car and my flat, the buildings and the tourist attractions. She had come to see me.