from Eshla

When I was younger, in my teens, a friend of mine gave me a letter one holiday season. We were each assigned a secret Santa, someone who’d surprise us with a gift and a little holiday note on the last day of school before Christmas break. One of my dear friends happened to draw my name. So, instead of a bland card with the generic “Happy Holidays,” she decided to write me a letter, recalling all the good times that we’d had together. At the end, she wrote that I had this quality she hadn’t seen in others around her. She said I was tenacious and she wished she had that too. What a lovely compliment.

But, I had no idea what tenacious meant.

So, I politely said thank you, gave her a hug for the note, put it in my bag, and then slipped away to find a dictionary – this was before the era of the Internet. I landed on tenacious. I even tried to pronounce it- sounded funny to me. What on earth could it mean? And then I learned, it meant to have willpower, to persevere, to keep going, to keep trying, to not give up.

Later, when I was in college and had to write letters, expressing my interest to work in a place, do an internship, or apply for a fellowship, I always used one word to describe myself – tenacious.

I was raised in an immigrant household. I didn’t learn tenacity from a dictionary. I saw it in front of me. I saw success and immense failure. I saw good times and very rough times. I knew what it took to put food on the table. I saw sacrifice daily. And I saw tenacity.

That frugality and work ethic stuck with me. I went to college and worked three jobs – two that paid housing and expenses, and the other that helped me inch closer to my dreams. I spent early mornings and afternoons in newsrooms in DC, chasing journalists and producers. I spent evenings sitting through classes on the Cold War. And then spent nights, writing papers, completing assignments, and doing yoga at 2 am to relax. I also had my share of good times with friends. But it was always a humble existence. It was always an existence that knew that this would be the way to a better future, a more secure future, a future of my dreams.

And then I graduated during the pinnacle of the recession. Even with a stellar CV, I found myself entering an economy that didn’t have time, space, or money for me and my classmates. So, I applied to graduate school and, shockingly, got in after a few weeks of submitting my application. But I didn’t have the funds. So I applied to countless scholarships. I got rejected and rejected and rejected. Then, I applied to some more. And finally, found my match. A year later, I found myself walking the streets of London, something I had only dreamed of. Even though I had money in my pocket to catch the bus after class, I would walk. Even though I had money to buy a decent lunch, I’d go for the simple sandwich. Even though, I could have spent on myself a little, I saved. I suppose that frugality resulted from having seen the struggles in my childhood. It was fear that you’d never want to run out.

And in the process of doing all this, I discovered the beauty of service. Perhaps because I grew up in a humble abode, I could relate to the art of service, to giving to those who had less. For me, it became my passion. I enjoyed spending time in rural villages, tending to public health issues. I enjoyed sitting with other young twenty-year-olds, trying to figure out new innovative solutions to serious problems. I enjoyed reading about great leaders who lived big lives on little resources. I enjoyed listening to others stories, learning from their struggles. I enjoyed prodding inefficient organizations and agencies to give more, to do more for their communities.

And yet, while I would spend hours in rural communities, tending to these needs, and coming back home to figure out how to get through silly bureaucracy to get funding for them, I’d run into a middle class, living a life of luxury – far beyond their means. It didn’t matter where I’d look, whether in the so-called rising Asian giants or in the developed world, I saw young people walking around with technology hanging from every pocket, wearing branded t-shirts, shoes, bags, and even socks. And I thought to myself, have we simply exported our bad habits globally?

After all, a generation and a world that had never seen credit cards was now using them – and liberally so. Cities that had deep, cyclical poverty also had families getting bigger homes, more cars to fill all the parking spaces (literally), and more designer wear to compliment their new 21st century lives. I saw bakeries pop up, feeding those already a little too plump with more gluttony. Outside such a shop, a starved man and his family would be sitting, but few looked at him or recognized his presence. I saw globalization benefit thousands in the metros and leave thousands more behind in its shadows. I saw youth that had been granted everything and had little to achieve on their own.

What we had achieved on paper and pencil, they needed an iPhone to do it on. What we achieved by working jobs after school, they expected from their parents. Places we worked so hard to visit by getting scholarships and support, they vacationed in during their holidays with ease.

And I wondered, will this generation have the same work ethic? Will this world have the same tenacity that I learned first-hand? Or has this world’s expectations of a “comfortable” life grown so exponentially that if they don’t slow down, they may just come crumbling down?

As an immigrant, I’ve traveled continents, lived my life in fragments, parts here and parts there. I’ve learned that every society has its flaws. But today, when I see the rise of Asian societies, I worry that perhaps they’ve adopted the bad economical habits that are ravaging the Western world.

We’ve been told repeatedly that one can still live big with less, yet we ignore that advice and indulge our senses. But at the cost of what? To breed a generation that expects luxury but doesn’t know how to achieve it? To breed a generation that doesn’t know struggle, only excess? To breed a generation that isn’t equipped with the tenacity to take on the challenges that life presents?

I hope not. I hope that the mistakes of our economies in the West can be a lesson. A life with less can still be a grand life.

7 thoughts on “Tenacity

  1. Hi Shekhar,

    I am a retd doctor …and saw your tweets today. This is the first time I am tweeting….How you hit the nail on the head…tenacity is a vanishing quality, at least among the middle and upper class. But I am sure there are tenacious ppl in the slums of Bombay and similar places.

    Yes, some have too much and many have little.

    We come a full circle eating junk food, growing obese and then take medications for that or undergo bariatric surgery. One has to pay only a short visit to the rich countries to see the profilerating “obesity menace”…it is starting here.

    As regards Jan Lok Pal Bill about which you have spoken many wisdom filled words on TV and twitter
    I say….This is our chance…hold on India and fight….a long journey begins with a single step

    Jai HInd!!!

  2. Eshla,

    Tenacity is a trait , in many people and it shows in different ways- yours is just one example, of a degree we cannot compare .

    Yours is not the only way it expresses itself – same goes for Frugality – it is the common experience , and i bet many times over in degree expressed in the livs of developing and third world societies , and in the so-called ‘ developed’ countries , people have other ways to expres those qualities.

    It takes a lot of tenacity and frugality for students everywhere to succeed. The current generation may get some things easily , due to Superstores , and travel due to an ever expanding Jet age , where any known place on the planet is just a day’s flight away max.

    But it is not all easy. the information explosion and stresses and the time-to-mature , for the current generation is way more than any previous generation.

    The west is never tired of preaching the East to live ‘Grandly’ on less – you should be ashamed of yourself , for falling for it. Having squeezed every drop of life out of the East , the West built their Economy in the 19th and 20th centuries, and when it is the turn of the East to prosper , we have people preaching.

    East will evolve in its own way , it can and will never be the West. Don’t fall for the surface. A starving Easterner may have found some gadgets and a castle and a super market – but deep inside , they are not that attached, due to the in-built philosophy of life .

    Preach frugality to the West. It is time for the East to party. And it is so sgacious , it invites the West to join in – unlike the arrogant smug West.

  3. Hi Eshla/Shekhar,

    Eshla queries, and I quote,

    “We’ve been told repeatedly that one can still live big with less, yet we ignore that advice and indulge our senses. But at the cost of what? To breed a generation that expects luxury but doesn’t know how to achieve it? To breed a generation that doesn’t know struggle, only excess? To breed a generation that isn’t equipped with the tenacity to take on the challenges that life presents?”

    The Eurozone crisis, which is in the west shows how coutries borrowed to live in excess. Actually, nobody talks about it, but in reality, it also shows greedy lenders, lending with the expectancy of interest on money loaned. Now that the borrowers can’t pay back, why not just write-off their losses and move on? Of course, the cost of borrowing will increase since their will be less capital available for lending. So what, west, wake-up to the reality. Jobs have already been exported to the east, so bailing out the banks only feeds the east, since the borrowers will continue buying goods and services made in the east. The way the west can cure it’s probelms is by creating genuine jobs in the west. Let the Dollar drop to as low as required to help the west’s exports.

    As for young asians living an excessive life, it can be understood from the spectacular growth in incomes that they have seen their parents achieve. Since money is plentiful for young asians, they consume, and being less focussed on struggling, could focus on entreprenuership, knowing they have the stability of their parents.

    I agree with you that there are plenty of fools who consume and take uncalculated risks, but I would not paint all with the same brush. Perhaps study of economic depressions should be a compulsory subject for these consumers so that they get an idea of the risks involved. But on the other side of the coin, “Nothing ventured is nothing gained”.

    On a larger scale, we desperately need legislation in India to give social security benefits to the poor. I believe if you could could focus on legislation to have government help the poor rather than chasing private donors, it could give you a much greater return for your efforts. Focus on getting more tax revenues for the government so that they can pass on the money to the poor through social security. The transparancy that the Anna Hazare movement is seeking could help in preventing diverting funds to feed corruption.

  4. PS: I shouldn’t assume that you are working with private donors, you may be working with both private and government donors. That’s fine. And also, you may have better access to donors rather than politicians/voters to push for legislation, so maybe as an individual you may be more effective in disbursing donations rather than governmental support. Thanks for your efforts! Maybe others who read Shekhar’s blog-page will help in pushing for legislation.

  5. Respected Sir,

    Well, my English is not so good, also it is impossible for me to express everything what I actually feel at each level of my existence after coming across your, yes, i would call it “school of thoughts”. I am mother of two teenager sons. Just for a study purpose, [Dissertation on topic: Total (solid and Liquid) waste management in Rural India] i have started visiting rural area since three months. On house hold inventories something inside me has started changing. Every moment, somebody in me tells me, reminds me, this is your life purpose, money or no money, job or no job, you have to dive to serve your brothers and sisters.. and i just joined Twitter, din’t know through you, the divine guides me towards the realization. Please bless me.

    And I am so excited..ohhhhhh again only words are medium of expression…I am writing to You.. “You”.. who is an integral part of my internal world since so many years, before “Mr. India”..

    Thank you So much.

  6. I think we are at middle of something, so it is too early to judge whether recent is good or bad. Since the world is changing so rapidly, there are chances that many things will eventually change to good, or we will find good of existing systems. In context, I won’t worry about changes in work habits and ethics until it is increasingly creating visible harm to society.

    Unintended consequences have brought a lot of good fruits out of seemingly bad things, and it will continue to make good for us. E.g. European countries had fought 1000s of wars with each other prior to WW II, and zero wars after then. Why? Among many reason, one major is that all European countries have huge destructive power and all they knows it. In next war, all fighting countries will incur heavy material losses regardless who win the war, so losses are much higher than possible gains. Other reason is they don’t have absolute need to attack neighbor country to grab fertile land to secure their own food supply. The food growing increased in multiple fold after genetic engineering inventions, as the storage capacity to store that food. Combining it with globalization has created situation where all country can have enough raw food in emergency, at least temporarily. Thus again, war is not only option to get food.

    Interestingly, both, Genetic foods and globalization, are rejected as bad things by many culture lovers across the world. Ahinsa has been around for 1000s of year but it failed to achieve peach in Europe at the level and speed the weapon of mass destruction and so called bad technologies have achieved it. This will carryover to East, we just need to hold on for a few more decades.

    Again, interestingly, none of the people who contributed to the changes ever claimed that they are doing so to make world better place to live. They all had their own selfish objectives, which cumulatively transformed human lives forever.

    Much of our conventional wisdom about human behaviors and needs will vanish away once machines start taking over most of daily human activities and start getting inside human bodies routinely. There are good chances that it will happen in our life time.

    So don’t worry about westernization and other issues. Just try to have a balanced set of non-corrupt rules and everything else will be fine on long run.

  7. Sir

    Recently started reading your blog..completed…Brilliant Sir like your films.

    Waiting for more updates


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