Work is an opportunity

May 29, 2007

by Sanjay Mysoremutt

This is a story as I recall (so may be some discrepancies) of the Emperor Akbar and his brilliant minister Birbal, who was not just a very wise advisor but was also a very sharp wit.

There were some people who were envious about Birbal’s position. Once Emperor Akbar was strolling around, when a smart man approached him, and after initial courtesies, had a question for him. He asked “though I myself am as intelligent as Birbal why do you only favor him? Why can’t I be made a minister – I’m even better than him!”

Akbar says nothing, but shows the man a passer-by in the distance leading some animals. He says – ask that passer-by where he is going.

The man is very confident about doing such a trivial task. He goes and asks the passer-by, and comes back with the name of the destination city where he is going.

Then Akbar asks – what does he do? Then the man goes again, this time the passer-by had gone further. Finding the answer, he returns to inform Akbar that he sells horses.

Then Akbar says again – at what price? Then the man runs off again – still further this time – and comes back – now breathless and exhausted – again with the answer. And so on… until the man finally reports that the passer-by has simply gone too far to be caught up with anymore!

Then Birbal happens to turn up. Akbar asks Birbal that a passer-by had passed by with some animals, and if he had any information about it. Birbal gives him a detailed report, saying the trader from (wherever, … dubai 😉 ) has real good Arabi horses, and he thought that those would be excellent for His Majesty’s cavalry. He bargained and got a good price so he bought them for His Majesty.

Of course, its only a story 🙂 but if we give it a thought we will find it highly relevant in applying it to the corporate world. In India, we are still reeling from the slave mentality of the British Raj era. If someone tells us something to do, we do it. May even be very well (and then maybe we even expect to get rewarded for it). Just like the first guy who met Akbar. The first guy may have been smart and efficient, but he was only like a slave.

Birbal was so alert to opportunities that even before Akbar had asked, he had already observed, and proactively investigated, and even acted upon it! Birbal worked for Akbar, but he was not a slave to Akbar. He had independent intelligent thinking. He was a leader in his own right.

In the movie Life is Beautiful (Original Italian version Vita è bella, La (1997) directed by Roberto Benigni) a wise man explains the art of being a waiter to his enthusiastic nephew: “Think of a sunflower, they bow down to the sun. But if you see some that are too bowed down, it means they’re dead! You’re serving, you’re not a servant.” And then after a precious moment of silence, adds “Serving is a supreme art. God is the first servant. God serves men, but he’s not a servant to men!”

We may be self-employed, or employed with an organization, working under a manager, or a housekeeper at home cooking and gardening and taking care of the kids. But in any case, we need not be like a slave, we can be like Birbal – contributing actively to our project, and perhaps unknowingly, ultimately even to our country and to humanity.

That is a crucial point that is going to make a key difference. Not just to our manager, to the organization or the country, but more importantly – even to oneself.

Not many of us are in the ideal job we would like to do. A lot of us compromise a significant fraction of our life in an office simply doing things we are obliged to do. We are like a bird in a golden cage. We do not fly out because we don’t want to lose the security of our cage. We of course forgot that we have ended up in the cage due to our own countless choices in the past! So the easiest most convenient and temporarily-satisfying way to express our claustrophobia, is to crib and complain. Lebanese-American poet Kahlil Gibran understandingly says “Always you have been told that work is a curse and labour a misfortune.” But then, he adds very encouragingly, “But I say to you that when you work you fulfill a part of earth’s furthest dream, assigned to you when that dream was born.” 

Basavanna though known as a poet and a philosopher, was not merely into philosophizing but had actively applied his approach when he had served in various roles from Accountant to eventually a Prime Minister to King Bijjala for many years, and had been a family man as well. He put the idea succinctly in his maxim “Kayakave Kailasa”.

Here are some ideas along these lines, surely readers you will be able to add many more based on your own experience.

Instead of being too obsessed with just our role, we need to also get in sync with the bigger picture of any project that we work on. We need to feel free to communicate if there’s something more we need from our colleagues, in terms of maybe availability or interactivity. On the one hand, one has to try to be self-reliance trying to address any issues by oneself, and on the other hand one needs to not get stuck up but keep moving by taking other’s help. So there’s a fine line of balance between these two approaches that one needs to achieve! We tend to wait on things if someone or some resource is not available, but its important that we either get back with the urgency of the matter, or do something else about it in terms of a temporary workaround or so. We often have to work within certain externally set constraints. Playing the Chinese game of Tangrams helps us appreciate the countless possibilities we can create, just using a few limited pieces!

A magnificient waterfall in Shivanasamudra is admired by all its visitors. In 1902, there was one man who did not merely admire the falls, but installed a turbine, making it the first hydel project in Asia – which is still functional now a century later! We can learn from Sir M. Vishweshwariah to perceive such potential. And that waterfall – though powerful, is relatively very limited, compared to the infinite energy, within each of us. We need to learn to recognize and harness this, in order to achieve our true potential as human beings.

Our work, however modest, is one of the opportunities we get for this purpose!

34 Responses to “Work is an opportunity”

  1. praneshachar Says:

    great words
    “But I say to you that when you work you fulfill a part of earth’s furthest dream, assigned to you when that dream was born.

    ” but he was not a slave to Akbar. He had independent intelligent thinking. He was a leader in his own right.

    Sanjay really an inspiring post Every one has got potential to become leaders in their own way but as you have indicated many of us will become slaves to the boss/organisation with shorter goals. one who is like Birbal and has got a boss like Akbar will floorish others will not.

    Thanks for a wonderfull thought provoking write up and this you have poste in RWB may be tribute to ONE ZERO ZERO ZERO ZERO ZERO
    Sir M.V. utttered what a waste when he stood infront of
    the fall yes he was a visionary so that resulted in starting so many things under his leadership be it State bank of Myore,
    Mysore Iron & Steel Works ( later on named after him as Visveraya Iron & Steel Ltd., and now it Visvesvaraya Iron and Steel Plant and part of SAIL), Mysore paper Mills KRS and many other in karnataka and other states too.

  2. pArijAta Says:

    Thanks for the inspiring article.

  3. kbharadwaj81 Says:

    Really inspiring article. thank you very much. I have circulated this among my team members ( with due credit ) and the response i got was tremendous. On behalf of my team thank you so much.

  4. neel3 Says:

    Thanks a lot for the thought provoking post,Sanjayji.
    A must read for children of this yuga who need to learn about work ethics.

  5. decemberstud Says:

    An excellent article!!!
    Part of the issue here is the socio-cultural nexus in India. Let me give you a very recent example. A big company (let’s not get into names) has ‘technician’s working in the lab. Most of the ‘engineers’ who are working in the company do not treat the ‘technicians’ at par, even the ones who have returned from the west. So, what’s the solution? The company decides to stop calling them ‘technician’s and starts calling them ‘associate engineers’. LOL…see the difference?
    Work is certainly an opportunity, but life in itself is full of opportunities. We all need to grab them as we pass every day.
    And yes, ‘Life is Beautiful’ is perhaps one of the best movies I have seen, ever.

  6. rahul Says:

    Very well written! It reminded me of ayn rand’s line:

    If there is any one proof of a man’s incompetence, it is the stagnant mentality of a worker who, doing some small routine job in a vast undertaking, does not care to look beyond the lever of a machine, does not choose to know how the machine got there or what makes his job possible, and proclaims that the management of the undertaking is parasitical and unnecessary. – Ayn Rand

  7. bachodi Says:

    Wonderful article sir, too good.

  8. latha vidyaranya Says:

    “the countless possibilities that we can create with few limited pieces”! alas, if only we can all drop our myopic vision and try to see the larger picture and feel good about the little , unsung contribution that we are making for the larger successful running of the system that we are in! that would create “raama raajya”!

  9. Rajeshwari Says:

    Very good and inspiring article.
    Thank you very much Sanjayji.
    Hoping for some more inspiring articles in near future.

  10. Sanjay M Says:

    Dear all,

    Thank you everyone for your wonderful responses.

    Had kept a longer draft of a post to follow up on this, but don’t know when I’ll complete it, so will just put the gist of it here.

    Having worked for almost 10 years, I’ve really had very varying perspectives of work over time. But this is the one which I found that was most valuable one, is largely thanks to one of the managers in HP, Gajanan Londhe, helped me to see things this way.

    Here are some more interesting links…

    But I rediscover time and again that – while writing or reading may be interesting and provide some inspiration – one’s own personal experience in application is the only thing of real value 🙂

    Happy Hour is 9 to 5

    The Future of Work – by Theodore Zeldin

    I hate my job! I hate my boss!

  11. T. Prasanna Lakshmi Says:

    Hi Sanjay,

    Great to go thru an inspiring article. Work is an opportunity. Yes. It is not just “work” at office. Even at home, it brings out the best of one’s abilities and make living worthwhile. Great instances were quoted! One must be able to think more than what is assigned. Thank you for putting one more better moment into the reader’s life .Especially mine. Thank you for reminding life during my school days. Hope to get them back and live life again. I shall circulate this article among my friends who do not have an opportunity to go thru this and get inspired. Thanks a lot.

  12. Sushil B Sangoi Says:

    Then there is another story of the Father who wanted to decide which of his 4 dauthers in law is worthy of the wealth and riches of the home.
    He gives them 5 grains of rice and tells them to safe keep them till he returns and asks for them.
    While one keeps them safe in a ‘safe’, another one simply throws them off thinking she can any time get 5 grains and give to the Father in law. One more thinks that these grains have some special mantra or charm and keeps them accordingly.
    The fourth one however, sows them, and multiplies them into a whole granary.
    When the father in law returns and asks back for the grains, the fourth one had entire fields and granaries to show … and he knew that she was a worthy contender for the keys of the home.
    The master always looks for a ‘good servant’.

  13. lokeshwar rao Says:

    Super, old is gold.

  14. It is an excellent article and thought provoking. As you rightly mentioned, I have made this article as a part of ‘Orientation and Induction” programme of HR in my company.
    Best Regards

  15. Rengarajan Says:

    Excellent article Sanjay. Keep it up.

    -Rengarajan T

  16. Sridhar Akkera Says:

    Thanks for the article….

    Such inspiring articles are very many on the WEB, but it is just like studying a concept thru a SUBJECT in the course ware, and then feeling good and great…..what ever is being told is true, and nothing can be denied….once I had a wise man asking me to differentiate between RELEVANT AND IRRELEVANT….and also the idea of a genius….to identify the micro aspect and relating it to the macro aspect…..PEOPLE condemn and contemplate…..JUST WISHFUL THINKING….

  17. Sanjay,

    Excellent perspective and i cant thank you enough for writing this wonderful piece.

    Glad to stumble upon it :-).

    Sridhar P

  18. Lokesh S Says:

    Thanks, It’s really very nice….
    But everyone cannot be Birbal or Sir. M.V.

  19. Hi sanjay, Nice article.

  20. Deepa Says:

    hi sanjay,

    Really its very excellent article and nice message.
    Thank u so:)

    Deepa R K

  21. […] international colleagues. Based on these experiences, wrote an article RwB published an article Work is an opportunity. And the other links […]

  22. rkpatel Says:

    *Very good article.

    *The article generated the following thoughts in my mind.

    *If I want to be like Birbal,can I become like Birbal..!!

    *I debate with myself that,is the intelligence like the intellect [akkal,buddhi etc]..!!

    *Is the intelligence like the commodity,the objects,the things..!!

    *Can intelligence be given to us by the other or can we give it to the other like we give the food,money,clothes, books,pen,pencil,rubber etc..!!

    *I asked myself can intelligence be given to us or learnt like the education or the intellect [akkal,buddhi etc]..!!

    *Or that we are born with only certain amount of intelligence,which is not possible to increase or decrease..!!

    *In another words if we are born as a horse,then no matter what the situation or circumstance we were in,we can not be held back or clobbered to slow down and work like an ass.

    *And if we are born as an ass no amount of whipping will make us to run or work like a horse..!!

    [please note this is not a criticism on anybody.It is an observation.I am talking about myself,yourself and all other human-beings.]

    *And this is an universal-dilemma of every loving and caring human-beings on this planet-earth,because we in general and every parents in particular want their children to be like the stallion..!!]

    *Now this hopeless situation of insufficient-intelligence in ourself and also in the other or others and our helplessness or inability to give it or get it from the other like the food,clothes,money,books etc we get and give and the enormous amount of problems it causes individually as well as collectively,naturally makes us human-beings to ask what are we..!! or who are we,all-beings and all-things we call the world or the universe..!!

    *Now we are not the first-set of human-beings born on this planet-earth who are faced with the problem of insufficient intelligence,are we..!!

    *I would dare to say that the problem of insufficiency of intelligence in us and the other or others is inseparable from ourself.

    *So I would say that from the day one when the first human-being appeared on the planet-earth,somebody sensitive and intelligent must have had observed that how come some are intelligent ie born as horse and the others are not ie born as an ass and that,is it possible to do something about it..!!

    *Now this quiriousity naturally asks us to get hold of the oldest recorded history of us human-beings.

    correct or not..!!

    *Now to see or know or observe something and ask question what is it,who is it,why is it like that,why is it not like that ?? and conclude what we think it is,is called science.

    correct or not..!!

    *And if it is agreed that it is called science then the answer to all our problems of Life or our Self are in the oldest indian-religious-science called the Vedas,Vedanta, Upanishdas and Gita and hundreds of thousands of treaties and commentries written by eminent-scholars as well as ordinary folks in the 30 odd main Indian languages and 3000 odd dialects of India.

    *Therefore personally I believe that it is absolutely useless to know or to teach or to learn about any other sciences or that we should not teach anything to anybody unless and until we know what is Life or what is our Self or who is Life or who is our Self ..!! ie it is absolutely important to know or learn about the Science-of-Life or the Science-of-Our-Self.

    *I personally believe that because we don’t know or that we don’t want to know or that we are ignorant of who or what we,all-beings and all-things called the world or the universe are,therefore almost all our problems of Life which is relationship are because of our ignorance.

    *I would call ourselves intellectuals only,because we have only akkal,buddhi etc that is we are not-intelligent, because we know that the We,all-beings and all-things called the world or the universe are JUST THE MATERIAL OBJECTS.

    *I would call ourselves unintelligent,because we don’t know or that we don’t want to know what is Life or our Self or who is Life or our Self.

    *I would call ourselves unintelligent,because we don’t know or that we don’t want to know that Life or our Self is PURE INTELLIGENCE.

    *Whatever or whoever we,all-beings and all-things called the world or the universe are,but let’s believe and have trust or faith in our Self without any doubts in our mind that we are not just the body-brain-mind-intellect-akkal-buddhi-etc,but we are PURE INTELLIGENCE.

    *Aey whatever or whoever we,all-beings and all-things called the world or the universe are,but let’s believe and have trust or faith in our Self without any doubts in our mind that our body-brain-mind-intellect-akkal-buddhi-etc, is like the small and large chunks or pieces of ice which are floating in the water from which they were born.

    *Aey,same as the chunks of ice don’t know that they were born-off or born-from and live-in water,therefore inside-of them and also outside-of them there is nothing but pure-water;similarly we don’t know or we don’t want to know and also we don’t want to believe that we are born-off or born-from and live-in PURE INTELLIGENCE,therefore inside-of-us and also outside-of-us there is nothing but INTELLIGENCE, whom we know as Paramaatman Bhagavan or God or our Self.

    *Think of that..!!


  23. rkpatel Says:

    I picture it as we,all-beings and all-things are a kind of internally-connected to the Infinite Intelligent Energy and darw from It according to as much as we are capable of drawing from It..!!

    I believe and visulise that we,all-beings and all-things called the world or the universe are born-off or born-from and live-in Him,Her or It;but the greatest dilema to me is that eventhough we are a kind of living-in It and therefore It is all around us and It must be able to penetrate into us or pass-through us;but still how come only very few people are inspired by the Supreme Intelligent Energy..!!

    I wish there was a method by which we can learn to ‘detect’ the Supreme Intelligent Energy and draw from It for our good as well as the welfare and welbeing of all-human-beings,all-beings and all-things called the world or the universe.

    Regards from,


  24. Deepa Says:

    Very Good post… 🙂

    Good one to start the day with…

    Makes a lot of differerence to one’s life.

    Keep writing Sanjay,


  25. Choose a job you love and you never have to work again in your life!

    Good article Sanjay! I loved it!

  26. […] easier in office esp. when I’ve been practicing to a reasonable extent my ideas expressed on RwB: Work is an opportunity and recently even earned a lot of customer appreciation including a Peer Excellence award – nobody […]

  27. Sanjay M Says:

    Thank you Suresh!

    This is a must read… great laughs… and at the same time makes us reflect:

    Study Finds Working At Work Improves Productivity

  28. Swathy Says:


    Its Great n Inspiring………
    thank u soooooooooo much………………….
    hope many have changed reading this article……………..
    really really great one
    once again thank u so much…………………

  29. […] instead of wishing for something else. I started becoming more sincere about whatever I was doing, including my job. So rather than begin by changing external circumstances, I looked at how I could change the way I […]

  30. rashmi. Says:

    nice ..very nice.. is this the article that was so popular when you wer at HP that Subbu and others forwarded on ?

  31. I appreciate your post and the number of posts is in itself a recognition of how we are lagging behind in our thoughts.

    This is exactly what I keep on hammering into the minds of school kids – be smart, be active and never forget to ask the 3 Ws.

    W1 – What? What is it that requires our attention.

    W2 – Why? Why does it exist?

    W3 – When can we adopt it.

    If we can get satisfactory answers to these 3 Ws then it is good for us.

    If someone comes begging, do not give him alms, show him the way to get the alms so that he does not have to beg again.

    Please correct Sanju – Indians were not slaves like Obama’s forefathers – India was never a slave country – Britishers came with the intention of commerce but took over India in parts – that is all.

    – Vasanthkumar Mysoremath

  32. Sanju / Rashmi
    I forgot to post another of Vachanas of Machaiah that so clearly brings out the contemporariness of thoughts of the present day world:

    Umbalilladonige umbuva chinthe (For someone who is starving, his only thought will be on food)

    Umbalu aadare, uduvaa chinthe (once he gets some food, his thoughts will linger on some cloths – peter england, allen solly, levis)

    Udalooo aaadare, iduvaa chinthe (after getting some good clothes, he wants to feel his riches and thinks of storing some – fixed deposits, insurance, chits)

    Idaloo aadare – soorina chinthe (after sizeable savings, he wants a delux luxury flat – regency apartments, resorts)

    Sooroo aadare – hendeera chinthe (after making a home, the person will be after Kareena Kapoor or Katrina Kaif or some damsel)

    Hendiroo aadare – makkala chinthe (what is the end result of marriage? – kids)

    Makkaloo aadare – …goes on … till he reaches the graveyard.

    – If all of us can understand the morale behind this vachana and be modest in fulfilling our needs and requirements, then world will be a beautiful live (conditions attached).

    All the best

    Vasanthkumar Mysoremath

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