And then came Akhil…
These developers are smart guys indeed! They have been in the business for so long that they know exactly where to stop. What I mean is that when these builders offer you an apartment in a semi-furnished state, they know the precise point after which the Queen of Sheba choices will start appearing. So very smartly, they leave that ‘bespoke finishing’part in your lap and disappear from the scene.
As you now go about engaging the decorators, the plumbers and the electricians, you suddenly realize how difficult it is get work out of some of these casually hired workers. Needlessly to say, all contracting is done verbally. In other words, there is no contract but a general understanding of the scope of work and the compensation to be paid for the work.
If you go for a turn-key solution, you are always doubting that the local hire would pick up the cheapest raw material from a whole-sale market. Conversely, a ‘labour-only’ rate lands you up with a huge quantum of un-used surplus stuff. Plumbers vacate the scene with faucets still dripping. The air-conditioning guy departs with a small leak in the brass pipe but a ‘highly-avoidable’ bigger hole in my pocket. Ah! I forget that I am still recovering from a poorly-fixed curtain rod that landed up on my not-so-well-protected skull.
All this is not discounting the odd ones who do a Houdini act after taking an advance payment. The last Jali-wallah we hired had to be finally lassoed in with a serious threat of the police putting him behind bars. The short story of my laments being that every second guy appeared to be either poorly trained or out to get you with petty thievery if not casualness.
In the midst of these frustrating and very-often exasperating experiences, I must admit that I had given up totally on the extremely poor skills, craftsmanship and ethics on display. In my day-dreaming musings, I could not at all fathom the fact that the exquisite Taj Mahal was actually made by Indian artisans. And that too almost six hundred years back!
And then came Akhil……all of a sudden and almost out of nowhere!
Brought to me by my rather slippery decorator Goldie, Akhil was a twenty-five years old carpenter. Hailing from a remote village in Western Uttar Pradesh, he turned out to be a true revelation and a total anti-thesis of my convictions so far. Wearing spotlessly clean clothes and a dimple-loaded smile, Akhil had a very ‘difficult to describe’ humble yet charming personality. Or probably, ‘instantaneously lovable’ would better fit the bill.
Frankly speaking, I had my doubts that a youngster like him could take responsibility for all that we were demanding. But during the course of our interactions in the very first week itself, all such apprehensions were put to rest.
A master of his trade was Akhil. He would capture all requirements very patiently and offer very valid suggestions to bring in a sense of symmetry and balance into every design. He would plan his day’s activities a day in advance and be present in the morning with amazing punctuality. Thereafter, when he would get to work, there was no stopping the charged-up inferno. Ably supported by a helper from his own village, he would easily put in almost 11-12 hours of daily work.
His dedication to his craft was sublime and his dexterity a treat to watch. His penchant for quality was at times irritating but could easily be a live demonstration of six-sigma ethics. All in all, in my life-time, I had never seen a more perfect example of such an extremely intelligent, inspired and committed worker. But more than any other attribute, you just could not miss observing how blissfully happy he was at all times.
Engaging him during one of his lunch breaks, I asked him,” Akhil, how long have you been in this profession?” A perspiring Akhil replied, “A little over ten years Sir. I learnt the trade from my grandfather as a kid. He was very good with woodwork and used to love me a lot.”
“That’s pretty early”, I remarked.
“Yes Sir and on top of it, I also joined ITI* after my 12th class. Formal training helped me a lot as well. Last five years, I have been with Goldie although he doesn’t pay much. Just 800 rupees (10$) per day.”
“What are your further plans?”, I queried. He replied in contemplation, “I think I might become a contractor myself. But more than that, I would love to get a govt job.”
“Why is that Akhil?”, I asked. With his trademark disarming smile, he joked, “With a govt job, it will be easier for me to get a bride in my village.”
I laughed along and now came to one issue which was puzzling me for a long time. “Akhil, tell me how do you always remain so happy in spite of all the adversity around you?”
With a mischievious twinkle in his eyes, he said,” Ah that secret! My grandfather taught me that as well.”
Very much intrigued, I entreated with curiosity, “Akhil please share that with me.” “Ok Sir”, he agreed, “But for that we will play a small game if you don’t mind.” I gave a go-ahead nod.
“Sir, I give you only 30 seconds. In this time span, I want you to look around in this room to spot and try to remember all the Green items you can spot.”
I did so as directed. Bang at 30 seconds, Akhil prompted me, “Please shut your eyes now Sir and do not open them till I tell you.” I played along and did so.
“Now keeping your eyes closed, please recall all the Red things you spotted in the room”, he said. Frankly, I could not think of even one Red item. I knew I had been nicely tricked cognitively. Bemused, I said, “Can’t think of any Red item Akhil.”
“Please open your eyes Sir”, he requested. “That was the little secret my grandpa taught me. Like the chosen colour, if you look around consciously for only good things and positivity around you, you will either not spot the evil and the vile or learn to ignore it.”
“I do this fun exercise so regularly that happiness and gratitude has become a part of me. Actually, its very easy. You must try it sometime Sir”, he suggested.
His singular audience in rapt attention had no words to say. “My lunch time is over.” Akhil declared as he smilingly got back to work.
I also got back to marvelling at the amazingly simplistic philosophy of happiness emanating from an unusual rustic guru in front of me.
Post Script : Since our conversation almost a year back, Akhil has taken up a carpenter’s job in Dubai. He keeps sending me ‘good wishes’ on every festival. Knowing him, there is no doubt in my mind that he would be happy wherever he may be and spreading happiness there as well.
First published at seekmediation.com on 23/11/22
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*ITI: Industrial Training Institute