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HARNESSING THE HEART - PART 8

…LIVING UP TO THE CHALLENGE OF CONSCIENCE IN DAILY LIFE


Harnessing the Heart
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Dear Reader, in this series, we offer you real life stories from contemporary heroes who have demonstrated the courage to follow their conscience when confronted with difficult dilemmas or challenging circumstances in their daily lives. This segment is an ode to the strength of the brave-hearts who chose to listen to the voice of their conscience, thereby abiding by the values of Right Conduct, Truth, Love, Peace and Non-violence, even though the choice had appeared tough.

In our previous issues, we brought you inspiring stories of Mrs. Priya Davis, Mr. Dev Taneja, Mr. C. B. S. Mani, Mr. Karthik Ramesh, Mr. Amar Vivek, Mr. Krish Venkatasubramaniam and Mr. Hiten Morarji.

In this issue, we have the uplifting story of a wedding planner , Mr. N. Prabhakar from Chennai, India, whose steadfastness to eternal principles of honesty and integrity has made him an exemplar to the modern generation of entrepreneurs. The seamless and effective way in which he married values into his profession and facilitated the weddings of so many couples is as fascinating as it is inspiring. Though a very simple and down-to-earth person, the lessons that everyone can learn from him are profound.

WEDDING VALUES TO THE BUSINESS OF WEDDING

The powerful story of Mr. N. Prabhakar as told to
Mr. Krish Venkatasubramaniam

After building a business for over 20 years and having established himself as a successful wedding planner, he decided to quit a few years back. He was only in his mid-forties, but had grown to become contented with the money he had earned. Instead, he wanted to pursue his personal spiritual life. His quest for spirituality was so sincere that he even changed all his phone numbers, including the landline number that he had been using for more than 20 years! And all this was done to just make sure that he stayed completely disassociated from the business.

But his customers just wouldn’t allow him to do that. Quite a few of them enquired about his whereabouts and came to his house in person, obviously the disconnection of phone lines failed to dissuade them! And every one of them had only one thing to say. “Please perform just one more wedding – that of my daughter. I am not going to allow you to retire before that!”

Some of them even kept a bundle of currency notes – a considerable amount - on the table before they left, giving this wedding planner no second choice! He was obviously over whelmed by their love and had to return from his retirement!

This is the story of Mr. N. Prabhakar, from Chennai, in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, who started his career as an Apprentice with the Simpson Group in 1977, and rose phenomenally to what he is now – a very successful entrepreneur and a philanthropist. And no prize if you have guessed that he is a Sai devotee.

But this account is not about the success of this individual, but about the Power of Values.

When our writer met him at his residence, simplicity was very obvious in his demeanor, his speech, and of course his sparsely furnished home office. One cannot help but notice that when Prabhakar talks about his core strength, he is very confident. In a powerful tone, he confides, “Honesty is my greatest strength, which I imbibed from my father. My father taught me ‘Just practice this one thing – be honest. Do not lie under any circumstance.’”

And he explains that in a simple way. He says that if one does not lie, he would always hesitate to do anything that is evil. This is because he will accept his fault if the situation ever warranted him to. But, if a person has the habit of lying, he would not hesitate to do any evil act, since he would anyhow bury it under a bundle of lies, one after the other!

One of his brochures has the title “Know Our Specialties” and lists 11 specialties. The very first one says “Truth and Honesty Are Our Watchwords”! And the fact that his clients have forced him to cancel his retirement reiterates that these are not just fanciful words printed to promote his business.

The Ideals of Punctuality and Efficiency

Prabhakar started his career in Addison Tools Ltd., a Simpson Group Company, in Chennai. He joined as a Commercial Apprentice in 1977 drawing a salary of Rs.130 per month. Yes, you read it right – a hundred and thirty rupees or an approximate equivalent of US $3 (at today's exhange rate) per month! Those days, Commercial Apprentices were not confirmed as per the usual employment contracts since the company’s Managing Director had sent a circular to all managers that no Commercial Apprentices would be confirmed. He had further said that no recommendations for the same should be sent to him.

But Prabhakar’s manager literally fought against this rule. So much so that the management made an exception to this rule and Prabhakar was taken in as a full time employee!

When the writer quizzed him as to what really made the Manager fight for his cause, he says, “I worked for Addison Tools for 11 years and not a single day I was late to office. Only on one occasion, that too when I cancelled a pre-approved leave, I went late by 2 minutes!

“Also, the other apprentices were deliberately slow in their work, to avoid being dumped with more work. But I used to complete any given task on time and was always ready to do any additional assignment given to me,” he says.

When Prabhakar resigned from this job to kick start his wedding planning venture, his Manager, Mr. P.S. Narayanan had told him that he would entrust his daughter’s wedding only to him. Three years later, the manager still remembered that and as promised went on to entrust his daughter’s wedding planning to Prabhakar! During this wedding, Prabhakar had requested Mr. Narayanan to appoint his representative to have a count of the number of people, to ensure mutual satisfaction of the accuracy of the billing, since the final billing was based on the actual number of people attending the wedding. For this, the Manager had replied, “I am going to entrust this work to my representative, an honest and reliable person and that is you!”

The staff at Addison used to contribute a fixed monthly amount from their salary into a common pool to fund their outstation tours. Prabhakar was usually given the task of visiting the places a few weeks before so that they got a feel of the place and its facilities, and to also book the accommodation in advance. Prabhakar always spent his personal money for these trips and was transparent in accounting for all money that was passed through him.

Little did he know at that time that these colleagues would later entrust their family weddings to him just for this transparency and honesty.

Accept Your Faults – That’s a Strength!

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Prabhakar confided that the second wedding assignment that he took up in 1989 proved to be a test of his strength. Due to his inexperience and the fault of his cook on whom he had heavily depended, there was a shortage of some items for the last batch of guests during lunch. The client was upset and lost his confidence in Prabhakar. “I just accepted my fault and did not try to hide behind excuses,” says Prabhakar.

The customer told him, “You cannot manage the reception in the evening. So, I will better arrange for food from a hotel.” Prabhakar accepted this humbly. But no hotel could provide it in such short notice and the customer had to come back to him. “Can you somehow do it?” he asked.

For the reception, one of the key items was the vegetarian pulav, for which basmati rice is generally used. But the Chief Cook had told him that he would manage with the ordinary rice, and hence basmati rice was not purchased.

When the customer asked Prabhakar about the rice used, he told the truth that basmati rice was not used in the preparation. Incidentally, the cook happened to come that way and the customer casually asked the same question to him too. “Yes. We have made sufficient preparation with basmati rice.” The chief cook lied. The customer then realized that his wedding planner was honest even if he was inexperienced.

It was 4 pm and was already too late since preparations for the evening feast had begun as early as 11 in the morning. Prabhakar’s face brightens up as he recollects that all items were ready by 6.30 pm in spite of the huge delay! “A real miracle”, says Prabhakar, “something which only God could have accomplished!” A reward for being honest!

400 Not Out!

“And since then, I have not turned back or failed in the last 20 years. I have been performing wedding, one after another, and the number has now touched 400. Some of my friends jokingly call me Nithya Kalyana Perumal, the Hindu God who is believed to bless the unmarried with marital bliss.

Even when he had started the venture, he was not willing to promote himself in any dishonest manner. A very difficult proposition since any prospective customer would invariably first ask him ‘How many weddings have you performed?’ But it came as a pleasant surprise when he heard his first customer tell him with excitement “We have heard a lot about you”! Not only that, the customer was even ready to assign the task to Prabhakar! Prabhakar still wonders what and from where they ‘heard a lot’ about him!

Always Speak Obligingly

“One trait which is very crucial for success, especially in this business is to ‘speak obligingly’ as Swami says,” explains Prabhakar. He recollects how a particular customer had been very unreasonable in his demands during a wedding. “But I was patient with him. Even though I could not oblige to whatever he demanded, I followed Swami’s message ‘You need not always oblige, but you can speak obligingly.’

“And after that event, the same person recommended me to his acquaintances on many occasions,” amuses Prabhakar.

The Importance of Professionalism

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“Along with honesty, I have also built in lots of systems and procedures to ensure utmost efficiency in whatever we do and that is very crucial,” warns Prabhakar. Over the years, I have built templates, using which we methodically know the sequence of the events, akin to a professional project management.

“We have a chronological list of activities to be focused right from several weeks before the actual wedding. We have a check list of all the things to be taken to the wedding premises. We know what to buy, in what quantities, their proportions, etc. thoroughly - everything that is needed for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

This writer confirms that he has not obtained a Diploma in Hotel Management. And, it is only in recent years, that he has learnt the art of cooking!

"Good Corporate Governance is a necessary condition, but it is not a substitute for performance. You still have to go out into the market and make customers happy."

Mr. Narayanamurthy, Infosys

The Inter-weaving of Business and Spirituality

“For me, Business and Spirituality is closely inter-woven. While I apply the spiritual principles to my business, my business has indirectly brought me to Swami,” says Prabhakar.

His earlier partner, a devotee of Bhagavan Baba had invited him to their house for bhajans, many years back. The Sai bhajans mesmerized Prabhakar and he was drawn into the lap of Swami!

He says that every single time he starts his work by surrendering to Swami ‘It is not me, but You who is performing this event’. But in spite of all earnest intentions and systems, there are situations that go beyond his control.

On at least three occasions, he remembers, while the family had estimated about 300 people to attend more than 600 had actually attended. On each of these days, there was sufficient quantity of every single item! ‘I just don’t know how that was possible!’ he says with wonder and joy.

Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and asked God’s blessing on the food. Breaking the loaves into pieces, he kept giving the Bread and the Fish to the disciples to give to the people.

They all ate as much as they wanted, and they picked up twelve baskets of left overs!”

Luke: 9:16 & 9.17

“I always prepare sufficient quantity of food for the number of people agreed upon as per the contract and I don’t try to make hidden profits by cooking less and stretching it,” he says. “In turn, God helps me out from difficult situations like the above.”

Listening to God’s Voice

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“I always start with a prayer and never rely just on my own intelligence alone. I always pray, ‘I don’t know anything. I just want to be honest and do good deeds. You control my thought process and make me do what YOU want me to do’. He helps me by giving the right intuition,” says Prabhakar, narrating an interesting incident that happened.

He had a wedding to be performed on 23 May, 1991 . The place was booked by the customer only from 22nd afternoon. But some intuition made him request the bride’s father to take the premise from the 22nd morning itself. And all his staff and the items reached the premise on the night of 21st.

On 21st midnight, the then Prime Minister of India, Mr. Rajiv Gandhi, was assassinated. And because of this national tragedy all the shops and establishments had closed their shutters the next day. No public transportation was available and because of the tension prevailing then even private vehicles were not plying on the road.

The groom was brought in a ‘Luna’ (a tiny 2 wheeler), the Nadaswaram (auspicious music) was played mildly from the kitchen to respect the public sentiment, and the wedding went on as planned, while all nuptials in the surrounding areas were cancelled!

“It was not me who did it. It was Him,” asserts Prabhakar.

Threat of Severe Consequences!

Once, a retired Colonel from Saugor, Uttar Pradesh, had approached him for his daughter’s wedding that was to be conducted in Chennai. During the initial discussions he asked the wedding planner ‘How do I know that you would perform this wedding well?’

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Prabhakar had replied that he would give the references of some people for whom he had coordinated weddings earlier. The colonel had refused saying that this way Prabhakar would give the references of only those contacts who he was sure would give only a positive feedback!

The Colonel then said that he would give the assignment to him but warned him that “If you are dishonest or don’t keep up your word, I’ll punish you severely, and I’ll do this even to my son, if he does not stick to principles!”

The wedding went on well and the Colonel, used to the discipline of the Army, in the end appreciated his meticulous planning and organisation. A man who had almost threatened him had now placed him on a high pedestal!

Prabhakar says that his only intention before any wedding is to do it exceedingly well and not to maximize profit. “But money automatically comes,” he says. “When the intention is good, the outcome will only be good.” And when he says this you cannot miss the confidence on his face.

Share to Multiply

He believes strongly that when you share, you get back more. And this, he has been doing in two ways:

He has transferred his knowledge about the business to quite a few people, who have successfully launched their own projects. He does not hesitate or feel insecure in sharing the ‘secret’ to anybody who has a good intention of building wealth through fair means.

The second is charity. A few years into this business, he and his partner decided to compulsorily spend a percentage of the profits on charitable causes. And they experienced that the more they gave, the more they got back. Though they did it without expecting anything in return, their business and the profits grew by leaps and bounds!

This is the real life tale of a self-made multi-millionaire, who never forgot to hear his true Self - his conscience, and in the process not only found prosperity but also has become an inspiration to many. Who says one cannot be successful in the present world if he or she strictly adheres to principles? If we look around, they surely would be many such Prabhakars who light up both others lives and their own. It is because of Prabhakar and the likes of him that the world is still such a beautiful place.

Illustrations: Mr. Sai Aditya, SSSU

 


Dear reader, if you know of any such inspiring personality, please do share the story with us and we would only to be too happy to feature it in this section of Heart2Heart. After all, what is heart2Heart without tales of love, inspiration, values and compassion? You can write to us at [email protected]


 

 

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Vol 6 Issue 07 - JULY 2008
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