Thursday, January 31, 2013

Of Sour Grapes, Conviction, and Risks

In 1995, Ram, a friend of mine, surprised a lot of us by declaring that he was going into farming – to grow grapes. For a successful engineer this was an eye popping move. We tried to cajole Ram against it but he said, “What is life if I don’t take a chance? I’ll never be able to do this again. I’m young enough to take this risk.” So he put all his life’s savings and bought himself a parcel of land somewhere near Shamirpet – in the outskirts of Hyderabad. Ram was a determined man. He spent a lot of time researching farming and its methods. He set up a small shack for the farm hands to stay and did all that he needed to do to get a good crop. 

When I met him a few years later, I asked him, “Ram, how are the grapes?” He proudly opened a small box of grapes. I popped one into my mouth and almost spat it out – it was really sour. Was this all he had to show after eight years of toil I thought. He smiled in a knowing way. ‘I just manage to survive by selling a few boxes these to my people who work at the farm”. I asked ‘Where is your life going? Do you seriously want to pursue this?” He said he was convinced it was the right thing for him to do. He was not making money, but he was firm that he would continue farming. It was an affirmation of his faith in his farm. I asked him to stick to his convictions and not aver a bit. I felt a bit awkward and left Ram to his farms. Sometimes in our careers we do something risky born out of our convictions. But was that the right thing to do?

I recently met Ram and nothing much seemed to have changed with him or his farm. He seemed ebullient. As usual, he gave me a bunch of grapes to taste and asked me, “What do you think about these grapes?” This time I was honest with him and said, “These grapes are sour. How will this ever sell? How will work for you? “Yes buddy, I know, but they seem to work for me,” he replied smilingly. It didn’t make any sense to me. 

Ram explained, “The grapes haven’t done very well but the land that grows these grapes seems to have done a lot better.” He had bought two parcels of land along the highway. The price of land had shot up to some astronomical levels. He had sold the smaller piece and bought himself a house and bought more land in some other place. He still retained the bigger piece of land for growing grapes. He thanked me for giving him the courage to have faith in his own conviction and said that the land has turned into gold! He was smiling ear to ear.

I left the farm feeling happy for Ram and was lost in thought about what courage and conviction can do for life and careers. There must have been so many trials and tribulations in his life, so many years of doubting Thomas and a long journey of questions that he had to go through. And I guess Ram just dug in!

What is life without risk in it? Life is to be lived a bit on the edge and in doing so; it is convictions that tease out the results. However unintended, positive consequences play out for the brave. 

Ram still believes that one day he will produce grapes that aren’t sour. I am convinced he will.