Driving down from Darjeeling, the Queen of the Hills, to the airport at Bagdogra, in March this year, my family and I had a memorable conversation with Saran, our taxi driver. Throughout our journey, Saran kept us thoroughly engaged with heartwarming anecdotes and tidbits about the Himalayas. He’d ask us thought provoking questions, and then, after hearing us out, would share his own perspective, leaving us marvel at his ability to intelligently entertain.

One such question he asked us was, “Kya aapne hamare sau rupye ke note dhyaan se dekhe hain?” – “Have you seen our 100 rupee note carefully?”

“Yes!” I piped up. And I immediately conjured up as detailed an image of the note as I could, picturing Gandhi ji on the face of it, smiling up at me through his glasses.

But of course, Saran’s question had to dig deeper than that.

“Do you know what’s printed on the reverse of the note?”, he asked.

Unfortunately for us, and fortunately for Saran, our thinking caps just didn’t seem to be working in that moment. While we were a tad disappointed that we couldn’t recall the details of something that we’d seen so often, we were intrigued, and Saran was eager to enlighten us.

Now, I’ll get to the answer of the question in just a bit, but there were a few things that struck me reminiscing that journey. And on the occasion of Gandhi ji’s 151st birth anniversary, those reflections on the Mahatma are what I want to share with you today.

On Simplicity

When I first saw Saran with his taxi outside our hotel that morning, I saw a man in a t-shirt and jeans, wearing a fancy pair of sunglasses. He looked well-off and my first impression of him was that he lived an extravagant life.

Then he told us his story – of his childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, and how he’d built his tourist transport business from scratch. I realized that I’d misjudged him. He was in fact, a simple man, with simple aspirations in life, working hard to provide for his family, while at the same time, inspiring travelers he met along the way the best way he could.

Talking to Saran made me realize that we often come up with our own definitions of what simplicity and extravagance mean. And that’s okay. What’s not okay is complicating life, in the hope that complexity helps us achieve our dreams. And when I think of this as a financial coach, it’s infinitely better to have a simple plan, than have a complex plan that serves no purpose other than to fulfill some grandiose feeling.

As Gandhi ji says, “If instead of supposing that we must become hermits and dwellers in caves in order to practice simplicity, we set about simplifying our affairs, each according to our own convictions and opportunity, much good will result and the simple life will at once be established.”

On Action

Saran didn’t have to talk to us on the drive to the airport. However, in doing so, not only did he keep our motion sickness at bay, but he also gave us so much food for thought that I still remember those two hours fondly. Unknowingly, by simply taking pride in his work, he left an impact on a few strangers he met only for a few hours.

Going that extra mile and striving for excellence is so much more rewarding than doing the bare minimum that’s required of us, the bare minimum that we’re paid to do. It might seem unnecessary, or that a small action, as small as making good conversation, won’t matter, but these small acts are the only way we leave the world better than we found it.

“Glory lies in the attempt to reach one’s goal and not in reaching it.”

Speaking of small acts, whenever I hear people leaving huge sums of money lying in their savings accounts, it pains me to know that they’re doing nothing to grow what’s given to them, in whatever little way they can.

I was curious to know what Saran does with the money he earns, so I asked him. And to my pleasant surprise, he said he invests it! Not only does he invest it in good financial instruments, but he also invests in people – in his brothers and sisters, in his children and in his community, providing them guidance for their growth.

In an article in the Indian Express last year, Azim Premji remarked of the Gandhian approach to wealth, “It does not put those with wealth in the dock just for the possession of wealth, unlike a few other economic ideologies. It is clear and definitive that wealth and resources, irrespective of who “owns” these, must help with the betterment of society and all its people.”

“You may never know what results come of your actions, but if you do nothing, there will be no results.”

The 100 Rupee Question

In 2005, the RBI printed the Mahatma Gandhi Series of notes. Among those, was the 100 Rupee note. And on the reverse of this note, were the mighty Himalayas – Goecha La, a high mountain pass in Sikkim – Mt. Kanchenjunga’s southeast face. The year marked the 50th anniversary of Kanchenjunga’s first ascent, as well as the 30th anniversary of Sikkim joining India as it’s then 22nd state.

With a sparkle in his eyes, Saran told us all about the history associated with this single note. And I thought to myself, how wonderful would it be if more people embraced the beauty of simplicity, and the ripple effect of action, the way Saran had.

Looking back on that journey a few days ago, I marveled at how he embodied so much of what the Father of our Nation stood for. And how we often tend to overlook the little things.

As our transactions continue to go more digital, we hardly ever take notice of our currency notes anymore. But what we can take notice of is the philosophies that Mahatma Gandhi stood for. And we can practice his teachings in everyday life, in the way we work, the way we look at wealth, and in living with kindness, love, and thought for the future. Because as one of Gandhi ji’s best sayings goes, “The future depends on what you do today.”

Author Bio - Komal Shivdasani

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