Inner decoration marks the greatest reward

This evening is about many things, right?

It is about India, it is about New Zealand, and it is about India and New Zealand. It is about news and about links.

It is also about achievements, accomplishments and awards.

One name that, with another’s made world news, linked to Auckland, New Zealand, India and accomplishments comes powerfully to mind today.

Sir Edmund Hillary will be remembered as the man who with Tenzing Norgay beside him, at times ahead of him, at times one step behind but all along with him, ascended for the first time in the history of humankind and in the history of mountains, the tallest mountain on the face of Planet Earth.

‘A few more whacks of the ice-axe in the firm snow and we stood on top’, is how the great moment has been described.

‘Stood on top.’

That is perhaps the tallest under-statement of our times.

Hillary was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE), Member of the Order of New Zealand (ONZ) and Knight of the Order of the Garter (KG). The Government of India conferred on him its second highest civilian award, ‘Padma Vibhushan.’

Sir Edmund’s glory

But where is the doubt that great as those awards were, great the decorations and titles that he received, they could not have matched and did not match the award which was conferred on him by Time, by the Hand of Destiny on top of that freezing summit. That award was the exhilaration, the rapture of the moment.

This is how Hillary himself described it:

My initial feelings were of relief; relief that there were no more steps to cut, no more ridges to traverse and no more humps to tantalise us with hopes of success. I looked at Tenzing and in spite of the balaclava, goggles and oxygen mask, all encrusted with long icicles that concealed his face, there was no disguising his infectious grin of pure delight as he looked all around him. We shook hands and then Tenzing threw his arm around my shoulders and we thumped each other on the back until we were almost breathless.”

Greatest Reward

Can there be any award greater, more fulfilling than that spontaneous embrace of two humans, the very first twosome on the highest point on earth, the nearest to the heavens, and one that leaves them literally, almost breathless?

Which jury, independent or affiliated, which judge objective or biased, which sponsor generous or covetous enabled that award?

None. It was the jury, the judge, the justness of their own striving that gave them that award.

What Tensing and Hillary got on that cold and lofty summit was a reward the reward of Effort and, of course, of Destiny. Awards followed.

Reward is higher than awards, loftier, deeper. It is not worn on the outside. It decorates the within.

To all those awarded today, I offer my congratulation. They have achieved the award by dint of their hard work, clear aim and Divine Grace. Assuming for the moment that there is no such thing as ‘Divine, there is such a thing called ‘Grace,’ indisputable, unparalleled. Amazing Grace.

Award virtues

I also commend to the award winners’ attention the award that is higher than all awards and which comes from standing tall with pride not arrogance, with gladness not hysteria where you want to stand, not in selfish salivation over your own moment of glory but with gratitude for the colleagueship of one or more persons without which you cannot stand there, and then, acknowledging the rapture of shared achievement, mutual exhilaration, and in ecstatic recognition of that mutuality.

No one gets anything without someone enabling the achievement. It could be one’s guardian; it could be one’s child. Indeed, it could be one’s peer by stepping side, by stepping down, by just not making it himself, first, to the winning post. Every ‘topper’ is there, in a sense, by leave of the topper-but-one.

Award types

Let me, in the next seven to eight minutes, tell you something more about the kind of awards that are given not on summits but at ceremonies down on the plains.

In simple black and white terms, awards are of two kinds – good awards and not-so-good awards.

Take the first kind first.

Those come in acts of grace, human grace. They come from the fullness of the giver’s heart, from sheer admiration; in fact, from plain gratitude. They may not bring a medallion, a cheque, a citation. They may be conferred in just a phrase or even one word.

M S, the legend

M S Subbulakshmi was a great Indian singer. She got in her time more awards than a very large cupboard could hold, including India’s highest civilian award –Bharat Ratna. But the award she really valued, she really regarded as the highest possible that she could get was when, while still very young, she was told by a senior musician that she sang like a kokila, the most musical of all birds.

Subbulakshmi said she felt at that moment a satisfaction, felt rewarded, felt awarded as she had not before nor later, ever felt.

Then there are awards that are given in honest recognition of rare qualities, rare attributes, rare records of talent or service. These are conferments, bestowals, presentations.

No Nobel for Gandhi

The great prizes of the world standing in names such as those of Alfred Nobel, Joseph Pulitzer, Ramon Magsaysay fall in that category.

Gandhi never got the Nobel, something over which the Nobel establishment has expressed the sincerest regret not once, many times. At least four Nobel Laureates have received their medallions in Stockholm and Oslo, citing his name as their inspiration.

And of course, there are the prizes that exhaust all the possibilities of metallurgy from gold to bronze and are given at the Olympics and at other global sports events. They are all well merited, well earned. The world applauds them; their recipients are iconic.

The Oscar is another genre of awards which all of us appreciate with enthusiasm for we know the recipients’ work, their worth.

The civilian decorations given by the State in the world’s democracies are also, by and large, seen as just, well deserved. And when sometimes recipients return state awards in protest at some action of the same state later, the independence of the recipient gets vindicated if also, at times, his petulance.

Decorations that have been given by the world’s dictatorships are ever suspect.

They are not awards. Let us not call them anything.

At the Summit

But human ingenuity has devised prizes and awards which not honour so much as they co-opt, do not decorate but obligate, do not acknowledge but invest in the giving. Those one has to be wary of.

The awards being given today to distinguished recipients do more than honour them they recognise the arduous, exacting and, at the end of the road, hugely fulfilling journey of people who set up enterprises outside their own home country.

Each of them has had professional, financial, social and cultural Everests to ascend.

Today’s awards are, in a sense, the equivalent of the awardees reaching the summit and being right ‘on top’.

What happens after you have reached the very top ?

Opportunities in descent

The descent starts!

But do not despair.

The descent has its huge opportunities.

Sir Edmund Hillary tells us how, after their dizzying glory, the then Chief Minister of West Bengal told him and Tensing Norgay that they must start a school for mountaineering in Darjeeling, to which boys and girls from varied backgrounds could also come. And the school was set up. It is one of the great success stories of India.

We also know how Sir Edmund took up the task of re-visiting the Everest to rid its slopes of the debris, the garbage, the waste which successor mountaineers have left behind.

What are the awardees of this evening going to do, now that they have reached the summit?

Should they just descend to the humdrum plain of everyday existence, content that they have had their minute under the Sun?

Should the lure of business success, which, in their case, means honest returns from earnest investments, continue to be their goal ever after?

Should, in other words, business continue to be their business?

And should that business be ‘business as usual’?

I will not be so crass as to proffer unsolicited advice.

Nor will I be so impervious to the call of our times to say ‘Go on, do exactly as you please.’

I will say ‘Do exactly what you please’, but hope and pray that that which exactly pleases them does not do injury to the soul of awards.

Tenzing and Hillary made their countries proud of them on the summit of Mount Everest. What they did later made the summit proud of them in their countries and, indeed, in the world.

Gopalkrishna Gandhi speaking at the IBA Awards Night on November 19

BNZ Partners Director Anthony Healy having a word with Mr Gandhi

A section of guests at the IBA Presentation Ceremony on November 19

Mr Gandhi with Ansuya Naidoo, Senior Partner, BNZ Partners, Central Auckland

India’s pride

You have done India proud of you in New Zealand. Now the time comes for you to do something which makes New Zealand proud of you in India and indeed globally.

The Himalaya beckons attention. A hundred things can be done for their health, the well-being of their people. If Indian New Zealanders led by their business leaders can bring to the Himalaya a typically New Zealandic plan for the conservation of Himalayan glaciers, their forests, their rivers and built heritage, they will be doing something wonderful.

Specifically, if Indian New Zealanders who, with their fellow citizens of this lovely land, have known the fury of earthquakes can advise Himalayan India, peninsular India and littoral India on how seismic shocks can be faced, they will be called blessed.

South Africa is a country where Indian business flourishes.

That country, as you may know, loves football.

It is said by Indian South Africans themselves, in a self-disparaging self-goal, using football language, “If you give Indians a corner, they will build a shop in it.”

Vital link

Indian New Zealanders have a corner, a corner of New Zealand’s heart.

But that corner is no ordinary corner.

It holds a corner stone for a great India-New Zealand link, not a Business-As-Usual link, but a Business-As-Never-Before link.

It holds the promise for a New Zealandic imagination for the protection of that part of Planet Earth, which gave humankind its great ‘First.’

The above was the speech delivered by Gopalkrishna Gandhi at the Indian Newslink Indian Business Awards Presentation Ceremony held on Monday, November 19, 2012 at Sky City Convention Centre. Reproduction of speeches verbatim is not the norm in our newspaper but we have done so in deference to the wishes of many who wanted his speech in printed format. We are grateful to Mr Gandhi for participating in our Awards Ceremony, to Wenceslaus Anthony for arranging his visit and to BNZ Partners for sponsoring his visit and to Singapore Airlines for flying him from and to Chennai.

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