By Aparna Jacob April 2003 What makes people change their vocation midway? It’s an inner calling, reveal some who dared to follow their heart Answering the call of your heart takes gumption. It means treading untraversed paths, and not being cowed down by the demands of family and society He was three when he attempted to play the sitar, propped up on pillows. Rigorous training in classical music honed his musical genius. He would sweep away awards at singing competitions throughout school and college with almost boring regularity. Everyone knew what this golden-throated prodigy would become—a software engineer! Shankar Mahadevan, who is today remembered for his debut song Breathless, recalls: “I lasted nine months on the software job. It took a lot of courage to take the plunge, to leave the security of a high paying job. But singing was where my heart was.” It was a leap of faith in his abilities. And he never regretted it. There may be one million software engineers, but there is only one Shankar Mahadevan. “If I hadn’t explored my potential, I’d have never known it,” the singing sensation explains. Answering the call of your heart takes gumption. It means treading untraversed paths, and not being cowed down by the demands of family and society. If that requires giving up a regular job that ties you to the desk, so be it. “I swam in a wild river. Trekked through paradise,” says Bittu Sahgal, back from a trip to a cave that homes the last few hundred Wroughton’s Freetailed bats in the forests of Bhimgad in Karnataka. “Sometimes I feel guilty at the sheer fun I have every day,” exults this ex-advertising guy who, between fighting to save the tiger, protecting rivers, coastlines and mountains, also edits the Sanctuary magazine. “My first job was about how the world ticks. My life now swings between defending nature and enjoying it. It feeds my soul.” Unless it nourishes your soul, a job is not worth it, Manish Modi discovered early in life. One is likely to find this radiant individual amidst rows of bookshelves in the quaint Hindi Granth Karyalay in Mumbai, custodian to four generations of efforts at promoting Indian cultural ethos and values. Modi was 26 when he left for Dubai to work with Italian jewelers and watch-makers Bvlgari. He saw people buying watches for over $10,000 to be back within a month for new ones. He was mortified by the material gluttony around him. He returned and immersed himself in the work of the Karyalay, his primary interest, to promote the precious knowledge in the texts they publish. “Bhed gyan, discerning the permanent from the transient, is important,” Modi explains. “We wrongly link money with security. In fact, it is the need for more money that makes us insecure, stay in jobs we hate. But Modi is not naïve to dismiss money altogether. “I’m good at my job. I work hard and make just enough.” And, going by the New Age philosophy, if you do what you like and believe in it, abundance will follow. Initially a computer scientist, writer Dilip D’souza found the fulfilment he sought in the pen. “Each time I travel to a remote village in India, I unearth new stories and new ways of living,” says the BITS Pilani graduate. He could not have researched branded tribes or experienced the intensity of the agitation against a dam, he says, if he was in the rat race to make a million: “It’s liberating to choose your work, unbound by time and deadlines.” It is the sheer joy of new experiences, starting from scratch that can be the high, reveals Chittaranjan Kaul. Kaul had been the vice-president with the American Bank for 16 years and a consultant to corporate when he was offered the post of the principal at the Sahyadri School near Pune. “It was the most intensely lived period of my life. As I taught various subjects, I discovered the process by which the learner in the child takes over,” he recounts. Vocation Versus Avocation But flitting from one job to the next may be the lot of an unfortunate many because what they seek seems to elude them. So it was for Jaya Row, a microbiologist by training, who later jumped on the MBA bandwagon. It took her eight years at a pharmaceutical company before the questioning began: “I realized I was getting doctors to prescribe medicines that patients don’t need. I was only helping people who had a lot of money make more money.” Intense soul-searching put her in touch with two deep-rooted interests, Vedanta and a desire to serve humanity. Ever since, Row has been teaching Vedanta, merging both her passions. She explains the concept of swadharma, an individual’s area of core interest. “If you deviate and choose a field of activity that is alien to your area of interest, it becomes paradharma. You may be successful at what you’re doing, but there’ll always be something rankling inside, a feeling of something amiss.” Your personality blossoms when you identify a cause you want to serve, believes Row: “A goal higher than yourself, one that will satisfy your emotional, intellectual and spiritual needs.” Jayesh Shah, once a stock-broker, believes that the need to serve is deeply ingrained in all of us. A staunch Jain and member of the humanist movement, Shah felt the need to apply the knowledge and skills gained from his spiritual learning to serve humanity. “I quit stock-broking and shifted priorities to social work,” reveals the reticent Shah who is the publisher of Humans cape, a magazine that addresses the trials faced by humanity. Want or Need Kaul makes a pertinent observation in this respect: “One way to discover what we want is to believe that if I do my best, the future will take care of itself. But, when am I likely to do my best? Is it when I’m doing something that goes against my nature? Or is it when it is in tune with myself? It’s similar to two persons straining in two directions as opposed to pulling in the same direction. Best work can happen when there is no conflict, when my hands are aligned with my heart, as Krishna says: ‘when you’re bereft of motive or goal’.” He elaborates on the concept of dharma: “Dharma has been interpreted as duty and an imposed one at that. But in fact it is the sahaj path, the natural path that would emerge once our conditioned preferences and choices fall away. It’s your natural calling that you would be wrong not to take up.” As Sahgal points: “If you spend 90 per cent of your waking hours doing what you hate doing, you are abusing the gift of life.” Ensuring there is no conflict within is the best way to discover one’s calling. “When what I think, feel and act are in synchronicity,” as Shah observes or as Modi insists, that is when one’s ethics and actions meet. D’souza’s mantra is simple: “First, there’s the fact that you can be productive only if you enjoy what you’re doing. Find what it is you like and pursue it. Being afraid of change is what lands us in a rut.” Jaya Row sums up: “Life’s futile unless we rise to the challenges it throws at us. As Gandhi says: ‘Find a purpose, the means will follow’.”
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