Two weeks ago, I wrote about an extraordinary woman who had been beaten and abused her entire life, ended up a housekeeper and then, with a bit of external nurturing, blossomed into a successful marketing executive in a local company.
I wrote then that often, sadly, we don’t want to help a cook or driver to rise in life. We justify our unwillingness to help them assuming there is nothing we could do for them anyway, that there is no way to change the status quo, as the person in question lacks the education, the desire, the ambition, maybe even the intelligence to do so.
I also said that if you are one of those who make these assumptions, I’m here to prove you wrong. I made a strong case for this two weeks ago. This week, I make it again.
Meet Rajesh. When I met him, some six years ago, he was perhaps 30 years old and was my driver in Mumbai — a good safe driver. But he had lots of flaws: coming late to work, using the car for personal use without permission, etc. and I started to feel he wasn’t the right man for the job. Yet he was so deferential — so shy, so scared of my authority; it was hard to tell if there was anything else in him but the ability to drive.
One day he was driving me to work and I asked how my kids behaved towards him when he was driving them somewhere when my wife nor I would not be in the car (I try to teach my kids to treat everyone with respect and wanted to make sure that those courtesies extended to our driver, too). Rajesh said they treated him politely. Then I asked him about his kids. He confessed his kids weren’t doing so well: his eldest son was drifting, not getting good grades. His daughter was a bit distant from him. He asked me for advice, and I gave some, and a week or two later he said the advice had helped him, and his kids were doing better.
From that point, we started to talk more. It turned out Rajesh hadn’t always been a driver, but a series of events had pushed him into it years earlier, and he saw no way out. But I did see a way out for him. Rajesh, it was becoming clear, was a man of high intelligence and exceptional ethics. He was just lost: he had no one to mentor him, and hadn’t a clue how to behave professionally, or how to treat his wife or kids.
I asked him if he was interested in becoming something more than a driver, and he said yes. I told him I was willing to help him if he agreed to stick to four things, and that if he did, I would, after my three-year employment contract was up, help him get a job outside of driving where he could move up and build a real career. The four things were read and discuss a series of books I would buy him; spend an hour every night learning to use a computer I would get him; discuss on our drive home business issues I had at work, and how I resolved them; and, spend all his free time with his wife and kids, instead of his friends. He agreed.
I asked him what kind of book he would like for his first read: “a love story”, he said. I got him Charlotte’s Web, a love story between a pig and a spider. He read it, and his insights into it were spot on. Next was Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. He consumed it in a week. Over the years, the books got more sophisticated; our talks about business more in-depth; his computer proficiency excellent; his command of English stronger; his relationship with his family better.
When I left the company, I got Rajesh a job in a company. Unfortunately, the company folded and I was 10,000 miles away and unable to help him get a new job. But when I returned to India two years later, and tried to locate Rajesh, I was sure I would find him in a driver’s job. I guess I ended up guilty about making silly assumptions about people: Rajesh hadn’t just gotten himself a new job, he had moved up… and up… and up. Today, he manages some 40 people, and makes six times what I used to pay him. He is no longer poor: he is middle class. And his kids are excelling, and will not, I assure you, be among India’s impoverished when they grow up.
This weekend, I am meeting Rajesh to discuss investing in a company he now plans to start. And I think he’s going to make me a lot of money. Maybe, just maybe, your next investment should also be in your driver, or cook. The returns are astronomical.
You can reach the Anonymous Alien at AnonymousAlieninIndia@gmail.com