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What my 85 year old Grandfather-in-law told me… (Guest Blog)

A lot of you loved what Arch had to share. I had told you already that she's just absolute magic with words.

Today, I have the opportunity to share a story from another superstar. And believe you me this is not part of some diversity or women empowerment journey. It is just because they are too damn good at what they do and inspire me in many ways.

Neha Mehta Kothari or NMK as I call her is a total superstar. One of the most passionate and creative people I know of. She is amazing at whatever that's given to her! She just happens to know the most creative way of doing things and if she doesn't then she will learn and come up with the most creative way of doing things. A role model for many.

But before we read what she has to say, why am I sharing their stories?

Moments like these remind me how fortunate I'm to have such warm, supremely talented and inspiring people on my corner who push me to aspire to get better everyday.

What's in it for you?

You get a first hand view to the journey, stories and thoughts of people who are damn good.

After reading this, you'll agree with me that there is a lot of lessons and learnings to be taken from people around us. We just have to be open and may be sometimes look for it.

Here's more what NMK wanted to share with you all.

March 2020

I remember it was a breezy summer afternoon and on any other Sunday, we’d be out with friends, brunching. But today was different. I sat there, on my make-shift work table a.k.a. my dining table, and had been on continuous calls since the previous evening. The government diktat was out and we had to, almost overnight, ensure we enable WFH for all our employees across the globe. We were hit by a pandemic, a small little one, but a deadly virus that would change the way we work, forever.

Keeping my eyes peeled for any red flags, Google-ing some of the terms that were new, I went over the draft a zillion times as we had to be super sure before hitting the send button. It had been a long work week and we continued to work through the weekend as well. Little did I know that last Friday at work would be the last time I met some of my team peeps in-person or the last time I had coffee with some of my friends on campus. To share an open secret, I knew my team was thrilled by the idea of working from home, like a lot of them across the world, but I hated WFH. I thrive off the energy I derive by my interactions with people but I knew I had no choice. I got back into the draft that was staring back at me, it had now been reviewed and changed only over a 100 times as no one knew what was right or wrong and we didn’t have a playbook so we went by our gut.

In the midst of all this, my grandfather-in-law a.k.a. Nanasa, called in to check on us. Let me tell you something about him. Nanasa is an endearing 85 year old fragile looking but immensely intelligent man. He worked as a Manager in one of the jute mills near Calcutta (that’s what the city was called back then) and had been in this ‘one organization’ all his life. At 85, he is super active, a self-made man who took care of his nine siblings as he had lost his father at a very tender age. He’d seen it all. He’s a disciplinarian and even today, he goes for a walk, meditates, exercises and follows a strict diet. Given his nature, his calls are to the point. How are you? All ok? <<Waits for a response>> Ok, bye! There is no scope for small talk, but again that day was ‘different’. And I’ll tell you what he told me that changed my life, forever.

Before I get to the main part, we’ve to go back a little in time. I must tell you that I belong to the Marwari community, yes, I know we’re clouded by stereotypes of which some are true and some not so true! So, now that you have some context, let’s dive right back in.

Anyway, he spoke to my husband (his grandson) and after the usual pleasantries, he asked him to hand the phone over to me. In my usual respectful tone, I said, Pranaam, Nanasa (the Rajasthani way of greeting your fam). Nanasa was amusingly very jovial today and told me that I owe him many parties – for my promotion, designation upgrade etc. Now, I did set some context about me being a Marwari, so you should know that these are very unusual conversations we have with our in-laws. But me being me, I said sure, we’ll party (I don’t know why I said that to him). He went on to ask me about the office and how we’re managing work during the pandemic. I told him it was crazy and that I was working since Friday as we had to adapt to the situation.

He then asked me a simple question – What are you going to do for your company in these tough times and how will you add value? A little taken aback, I replied saying I’ll do my best. Trust me it was the longest he’s ever spoken with me, so it was a little awkward and plus by now you can sense my nervousness. He too sensed the hesitation in my tone and what he told me next, changed the way I saw life and my work. 

While I come back to what he said, let me remind you once more that Nanasa is 85 years old, he is my grandfather-in-law and from a community where women don’t work and if by mistake they do, the society doesn’t consider it very noble.

So, now coming back. He said, and I am taking the liberty to paraphrase it: 
- At times like these, don’t ask what the company will do for you, but what will you bring to the table as an additional skill 
- Think like you own the place and do what you would have done if you owned this company
- Don’t just play the role you were hired for, do something that even you didn’t think you could do/achieve  
- Put the extra hours, be assertive, go the whole nine yards, this extra mile will take you miles ahead 
- Change is inevitable but what can you do to get everyone onboard and how will you convince them with your core skill 
- Openly communicate with your family. Explain to them that your organization needs you more and they will stand by you.

These words kept ringing in my ear for hours. It wasn’t just about how I should be when things are going down but this is how I should be each day and this should be my approach to work, whether a pandemic or not. Now I know what you’re thinking – these are management lessons that you’ve all read about in books or your professors have stressed on, but the point here is - I got this from my 85 year old Nanasa. The lesson aside, what deeply touched me was the person it came from. This also opens up a whole new world of hope for women like me who are trying to carve an identity for themselves and the fact that an 85 year old man can be so progressive, so I wonder what stops others. This is true inclusion and he is a true ally.

He is my hope, and hope is eternal.

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