I was a freshly minted graduate of a leading B School and wore its stripes proudly on my shoulders. I was to join a British Multinational in one of their plants in Gomia, Bihar as a Management Trainee. They chose only the best. And I was full of it, all puffed up.
The night train from Calcutta would reach Gomia in the morning. I had a letter that said that there would be a car to pick me up from the station and take me to the guest house.
The coal fired engine creaked up to the station and I alighted with my canvas hold-all, yes we had such things in those days. There was not a soul in sight to receive me. I felt let down. I heaved the luggage on my shoulder and came to the exit.
There I saw a nice car. The driver in a khaki shorts and a white coloured tee shirt was walking towards the car. Aah, my driver, there he was!
I went up to him and brusquely asked him to open the trunk and keep my luggage. He asked me in Hindi, who I was and I introduced myself. All this in a condescending way, and asked him to take me to the Guest House. He said he would be happy to drop me.
The driver heaved the luggage in, opened the rear door and had me seated. He asked me if I was comfortable. This was getting better.
Throughout the ride he asked me questions about my family etc. in a kind sort of way. I responded in monosyllables, irritated with a driver, who spoke too much.
Near the guest house, he alighted and a couple of the staff ran up to the car and saluted me. I thought I saw some exchange with the driver and they respectfully carried my luggage.
I waved out to the driver, who wished me the best in my new job. The next day was a big day. I was to meet the big daddy of the place- the Chief Executive – Dr.S.K.Varma. And I was nervous.
I went in early to the factory. His secretary ushered me into a corridor that led up to the room. I knocked on the door and walked into the large office. The big man in his overalls, had his back to me and as he turned I recognized the man he was the driver in factory clothes.
I burst out – 'Hey what are you doing in this office?'
He gave me a broad smile and in chaste English said he was Shiven Varma, and asked me to take a seat. I choked and could have died in that instant. My feet were all jelly and I apologized profusely for my behaviour and was at a loss for words.
He said that he had come to the station to see off a friend. And he had seen me and wanted to be of assistance. And played along for he knew I had mistaken him to be a driver.
He offered me tea and had a long conversation. Said that outside of work one should not wear their education, only use them. And never referred to the incident. Almost as if it did not happen.
As I walked away, I learnt the greatest lesson in humility. So, the guest house staff were actually saluting him, not me!!. My ego came crashing down. Shoulders hunched, weighing heavily with lessons learnt, I exited his office.
Humility is playing a role, any role, sans ego, whatever the role may be. Even if this were that of a driver. Dr. Varma never referred to this incidence ever, not even in any informal chat. He was unknowingly driving home a lesson in humility...!