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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Learnings from the day when we were left with no – ZERO – cash!

Overtime, Life sorts itself on its own. You always learn how to cope with what you have and let go of what’s not in your control!

Today marks a unique anniversary for my wife Vaani and me. Exactly a year ago, April 28, 2014, we were left with no cash. Absolutely no – ZERO – cash. Through our enduring bankruptcy, since early 2008, we had lived, and survived, with small sums of money. Rs.2000/- at one time. Rs.1000/- at another. And even smaller sums at different times. (I have recounted those nerve-wracking experiences in my Book, ‘Fall Like A Rose Petal – A father’s lessons on how to be happy and content while living without money’; Westland, August 2014)

But 28th April last year was different. We had been without work and without income for 22 months by then. We didn’t have a car anymore (we still don’t have one). All the gadgets/appliances at home had conked out and we didn’t have money to fix them let alone replace them. So, there was no washing machine, no microwave, no mixer-grinder and no TV at home and I personally had no mobile phone at that time. Mercifully, we had a roof over our heads and food on the table thanks to my wife’s sister’s support. But with no income, with a household to run and an adult family’s needs to be catered to, you do need some basic cash. And we didn’t have much. Whatever was coming by was from distant family or from friends who offered to help us randomly. On the 21st of April 2014, we were down to

A friend from Bangalore called and wanted me to come down to address the team of managers (at an annual strategy meet) at one of his client’s companies. He said they didn’t have a budget to offer me a fee, but they could fly me down, handle my ground transfers in Bangalore and I would have to speak for 90m on what I had learned from Life. I accepted the request because I was keen to get out of the “workless” mode we had gotten ourselves into.

The last Eighty Rupees
But reaching Chennai airport for the flight on 26th April morning cost me a princely Rs.400/-, the sumptuous but frugal breakfast with Bayars’ filter coffee at the Bagini restaurant near Bangalore airport cost me Rs.120/- , and the ride back home from Chennai airport cost me another Rs.450/-. So, on the morning of April 28th, we were left with Rs.962/-. Vaani reported that we needed vegetables badly. And some basic groceries. We got them: Rs.782/- gone. I realized we had just Rs.180/- left with us. And I decided to buy Vaani roses for Rs.50/-. It was an impulsive decision. I looked at the roses sitting in a tub at the florist’s outside the grocery store. I felt pretty sure that the Rs.180/- were not going to help us get anywhere. But the roses would make our home look good and “feel normal” for at least 24 hours. Besides, I just felt like telling Vaani how much I loved her for loving me so unconditionally – especially when our Life had been reduced to such banality and hopelessness on the material front.

We were left with Rs.80/- when we got home with the veggies, groceries and the roses – Rs.50/- being the cost of the autofare! That’s when a friend called and wanted us to come over for dinner to his place. We agreed. Our logic was simple: rather than brood, or worry, over our cashless state, why not take our mind off everything and just chill? But there was a catch. Our friend lived over 5 kms away. We could either take a bus or an auto. An auto would cost Rs.60/- and a bus ride would probably cost us Rs.20/-. We decided to take an auto and request our friend to have us dropped back. The auto-ride cost us Rs.64.90. And I gave Bhaskaran, the driver, Rs.80/- – that is, his fare, plus a Rs.15/- tip – and told him that this was the last of all the money we had. He stared at me in disbelief. He offered to return the tip back to me. We let him keep it and instead shot his picture as a memoir. (See pictures alongside of the Rs.80/-, the last cash we had and of Bhaskaran who received the money from us!)

That night, 28th April, both Vaani and I felt very light. There was no worry. No anxiety. Our friend had whipped up a great meal and there was some fine Scotch whisky, Bacardi and wine to go with it. We celebrated our absolute penniless state that night. Soon, someone was in a mood to sing. And we all sang songs. An impromptu antakshari of sorts. It was a Monday night I remember. It was past 2 am when we got home – our friend had us dropped back. For the state in which we were, we slept well. Very well. For the next 10 days, till the 8th of May, we remained cashless. No money to do anything – resultantly no groceries, no veggies, no stepping out of home to meet anyone for we couldn’t even take a bus anywhere! During this time, whenever we felt hopeless, Vaani and I talked a lot among ourselves. We talked about Life, about Swami (Sathya Sai Baba), about our courtship, about our children and raising them, we talked about loving each other, about gratitude and about acceptance. Those conversations were beautiful and meaningful. We went for long walks. We watched old DVDs on our laptops (since we didn’t have a TV). And we stayed engaged with the world on facebook and on WhatsApp.

Then on 8th of May, the friend who had arranged for my Talk at Bangalore, called me out of the blue. He said his client was very moved by our story (I had delivered my ‘Fall Like A Rose Petal Talk’ for his managers championing reflection, resilience and resourcefulness in troubled times). His client wanted to make a token payment to me and Vaani and wanted my bank details. I was humbled. And I sent it to him on email and by mid-morning the funds had arrived in my account. I rushed to the ATM and withdrew the cash. It got us going for a week or so. Until we encountered another period of cashlessness – but yet again, we were bailed out. And then we went cashless again. We went cashless for a total period of 18 days, in four spells, between April 28th and June 21st 2014. Let me confess, it was excruciatingly painful being that way. But it was also a period that taught me and Vaani a lot.

Fundamentally, it taught us that the best way to live is to let go of what you cannot control. Truly, in the state we were in, bankrupt, workless and cashless, we could do nothing than just face what came our way. What was coming was what we didn’t want or ever imagined we would have to face, but that’s the way it was to be. So, we let go and accepted our reality. Second, we stayed positive by looking at the abundance in our lives – we celebrated each other and our two precious children. Third, we thanked the Universe for the experience we were being put through – we are extremely grateful for the lessons we have learnt in this time of test and strife. And finally, we lived in gratitude to all those people – known and unknown – who have helped us and were continuing to help us through this time, ensuring that our Life’s journey progressed, onward, one day at a time.

What this phase has also taught us is that there’s a great value in celebrating what you have and letting go of what you can’t control. Simply, celebrating helps you soak in gratitude and letting go helps you anchor in peace. That peace, well, no money can ever buy!

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