Though he was a new arrival in the head office, Gagan Prakash caught almost everybody’s attention immediately. He was young but did not have the brashness of youth. He spoke a lot of sense but his age was just 28. The bosses listened to him more carefully and gave good consideration to his points. He listened more than he spoke. And when he spoke, he did so calmly and with a sense of purpose and years that defied his wisdom. They accepted many of Gagan Prakash’s suggestions, and praised him in his presence or absence.
Quite naturally, all this evoked a lot of jealousy among other staff, Gagan’s seniors, juniors or peers. Was he connected with someone on the Board of Directors – someone asked? Maybe, suggested another man rather savagely, the Big Boss wants to marry his pretty daughter off to Mr. Gagan Prakash! Whatever the comments, whenever Gagan mingled with the staff, he was very polite, very receptive, listened more than he spoke, told jokes that made everybody laugh openly, and more importantly, he had lots of anecdotes to share with all of them – stories about great people and ordinary persons, stories about how one corporate CEO found a way out of a ticklish situation, stories about sportspersons and the lesson others need to draw from their encounters in the sporting arenas….! Gagan talked with each and everybody, he ate his lunch with others, came to office or went home on the same company bus as others did. There was nothing in his behavior to suggest that he was any superior to others in connections or extra-curricular support from Directors.
Yet, the fellow got two quick promotions while others of his level still languished in the same slots. This provoked the staff union to get active and dash off a memorandum to the Big Boss. The union office-bearers also called on the Big Boss and expressed their ire openly against Gagan Prakash. The boss came straight to the point. “Look fellas,” he said, “that young man is very different from all of you. He deserves the promotions and much more. I have heard a lot of muck from many of you about his so-called high connections. That is all nonsense. He belongs to a very ordinary, lower-middle class family with father just a village school teacher and mother a simple housewife. But he is very good. So he got the two quick promotions. But if you want to know why he is so good, try and visit his small home.”
So, taking the Big Boss’s advice, two men and a woman from the head office planned a visit to Gagan Prakash’s home in a small neighbourhood on the city’s outskirts. What they saw there really made them look confused. They reached Gagan’s home without any notice to him. They found him sitting on a small stool in the front yard of the small house, sunning him-self on the winger morning and reading a book. He welcomed them warmly, urged his younger sister to make tea for all of them as they settled in the front room.
What amazed them was that the room was full of books, literally hundreds of them, on almost all subjects – history, management, personal growth, fiction, poetry, politics, current issues. Sensing their bewilderment, Gagan invited them into inside rooms of his small house. The three colleagues were in for some more astonishment when they saw each of the four rooms of the house full of books arranged neatly on shelves lining the walls.
“So many books? And who reads them?,” the woman colleague asked.
“Yes Madam. Many more are stuffed in these boxes. We all read them. My father and mother developed a great culture of reading in our family. We do watch TV for a while, but much of our time at home is spent in reading. My younger brother and sister, too, keep reading all the time.”
“So, your anecdotes come from these books!” wondered Gagan’s Section Officer.
“Yes Sir. That’s true. My father often insists that we acquire as much knowledge as possible by reading so that we are able to undertake bigger tasks and bigger challenges. And Father also says that the books make the serious reader more mature and respectful of others’ opinions,” Gagan said.
Then, Gagan went on: “Friends, I am aware of all sorts of rumours that keep flying all over about me. That is unfortunate. My extensive reading, which started when I was a nine-year-old, has helped me to be a better employee, if not anything else. Perhaps, the bosses like that. I cannot imagine life without reading, without the fragrance of books, the sweet sound of turning pages. I do not know what you think about all this. But I can say for sure that I have been benefitted tremendously from reading.”
By the time the colleagues left Gagan Prakash’s home, they were fairly sure about where they lagged behind. The next day in the office, they headed straight for the Big Boss’s office. To him, they only said a few simple words, “Sir, we now know.”
This is not an imaginary tale. This is a real-life story of a young man I personally know very well.
Published in The Hitavada Future Work Behaviour for 13 July 2010