“Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending”, mused Henry Wadsworth Longfellow couple of centuries ago. The topicality of these words remains eternal, affirming, as it does, the point that while beginning a venture is an accomplishment, greater skill lies in the harder task of sustaining and concluding anything worthwhile, in such a manner as to enable further levels of growth. The realisation dawns that in a few days from now, I will be reaching the end of my corporate career spanning thirty seven exciting years. The emotion surrounding a superannuation and farewell may be universal but the need to reach across a multinational audience makes it a compulsion to convey the sentiment in many languages, relating to countries of various groups of colleagues. Hence Ja Mata Ne, Zai Jian, Selamat tinggal, Jagbyeol insa, Arrivederla, Au Revoir, Totsiens, Dag, Tchau, Guten tag, Adios, Hoscakalin, Do Svidaniya, Maa as-salamah, Khuda Hafiz, Bidayakalina, Al Vida, or more locally Yeto (in the language of state of Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital), signifying farewell at the end of a ten year tenure in Nippon Express India, incidentally also turning full circle to wrap up a career journey that began, in what was then Bombay, way back in 1977, very much like the dynamics of change resonated yet again in Longfellow’s, “Turn, turn, my wheel ! All things must change / To something new, to something strange; / Nothing that is can pause or stay; / The moon will wax, the moon will wane, / The mist and cloud will turn to rain, / The rain to mist and cloud again, / To-morrow be to-day./ To-morrow be to-day”.
In retrospect, it has, indeed, been a challenging and fulfilling thirty seven years, working through six different assignments with as many corporate entities, in various regions within and outside India, and, as I move on towards whatever is in store for me next, it is more than gratifying to be leaving my current and last position at a stage where the regional and national business operations are poised for substantial growth, based on opportunities visible across short and medium term horizon.
On a varying note, is there anything like beginnings and endings, beyond its temporal sense of defining activity related sequences, as Robert Frost sets forth in following lines: “You’re searching…,/ for things that don’t exist; / I mean beginnings./ Ends and beginnings—there are no such things./ There are only middles”. Is there any sense, therefore, in looking back and forward from a deemed conclusion, or mentally surveying the beginning and ending, a la Janus and Portunus, of nearly four decades long career years, like the march of seasons or the logistics of vessels docking into, discharging and setting sail from gateway or harbour terminals, connecting into further modes of transportation and culminating in end distribution in accordance with predetermined algorithms? What next from the inflection point emerging at the day’s end on 31st December 2014, the irrevocable progression into year 2015, ushering in retired life and prospect of sunset years gradually looming in the horizon? Realising preciousness of the Frostian middle or the eternal present and harnessing its energy, I will try to construct a meaningful engagement consisting of travelling around, catching up on a huge reading list, avidly blogging, filling in distant friends with details of my new life, catching up on old associates, till now separated by distances and circumstances, remembering and probably attending functions, anniversaries and jubilees, in addition to social work and active participation in affairs of local community.
Will I miss anything from current routine, events and places? I have worked in many port cities in India and outside, but there is nothing to beat the hectic schedules and fast pace of life in Mumbai, so, probably, that will be the first thing to be missed out on; add to it the stressing hustle and bustle of shipping and logistics business and its challenges, managerial meetings and appraisals, catching up with deadlines, projects research, execution planning and managing its successful completion, commuting to and from office through Mumbai traffic, the far cry from rigours of shuttling in local trains at start of my career in late 1970s to comforting perquisites of a chauffer driven car and other privileges in later years, the early morning walks in beautifully landscaped park and walking trails within the huge residential complex of Hiranandani Estate where I presently live (see pics), pageantry and colour of ganesh chathurthi, dussehra and diwali festivities et al may, together with associates who have been very helpful at various stages of my career, become fond memories. Distance of time and place generally relieve what they seem to aggravate, for the diaspora of friends and associates across geographies is what makes the earth seem so expansive, because they, as appropriately stated by Thoreau, make the latitudes and longitudes of our world.
So it is back to Cochin on the morning of 30th December (conveniently opting to move out of Mumbai well before the defined 31st Dec 2014). Situated in my home state of Kerala, Cochin is the place where I spent ten eventful years at early stage of my career; hence the people, events, places and experiences in Cochin are what reinforced the foundations of my working life. It is the city, post matrimony, to which I took my wife to, to embark on a journey together that crossed the milestone of 32 memorable years on 26th November 2014 (celebrated with a quiet dinner at ‘Gallop’, Mahalakshmi Race Course, Mumbai, see pics). Both our sons were born and went through their early schooling there. As queen of Arabian sea landscaped by shrubs, trees and flowers of memories teeming with fragrance of formative events and associations of the 1980s, it is in Cochin that I set up my house over ten years ago. Nestled on a hillock about two hundred metres away from highway is my home called ‘Grale Haven’, located in a gated housing cluster known as ‘Serene Point’, beckoning with its idyllic ambience and roomy interiors. The saplings of arjuna, pine, cassia fistula, neem and golden apple trees, planted long years ago, can be seen in my mind’s eye waving their foliaged limbs to the skies as if silently heralding my return, with assurance of fair winds, gently falling rains and warm sunshine days, virtually echoing Goldsmith, “O, blest retirement! friend to life’s decline – / How blest is he who crowns, in shades like these, / A youth of labour with an age of ease !”
I like to digress here to dwell on the spiritual import of ships and voyages, to which my career years are inextricably linked. The ship, bark, barque, barca-longa or barchetta, was an ancient Christian symbol, signifying the church tossed in sea of disbelief, worldliness, and persecution but finally reaching safe harbour with its cargo of human souls. Part of the imagery comes from the ark saving Noah’s family during the Flood and Jesus protecting Peter’s boat and the apostles on the stormy Sea of Galile. It was also a great symbol during times when Christians needed to disguise the cross, since the ship’s mast forms a cross in many of its depictions. Probably originating in ancient vedic tradition that talks about jeevitha nauka (Sanskrit for life boat) navigating the stretches of samsara sagara or ocean of worldly life encompassing the cycle of birth, death and rebirth, the symbolism of ship as the church, sailing on choppy waters of life, bearing the cargo of human souls and steered by Christ, goes back as early as Justin Martyr in the 2nd century and is part of the oral teaching of the early church. There are numerous allegories of ship with the cross-rigging of mast as a symbol of the cross and elaborations in which the ship journeys in violent storms and is saved by Christ as steersman, whereby a ship is both a sign of hope for eternity, as well as a symbol of the certitude of salvation for those sailing in it. Even Jonah (Yunus or Dhul-Nun in Quran), who was tossed out of the ship due to deemed moral turpitude, and swallowed by the whale, exemplifies the ship with its cargo of souls saved by Jona’s sacrifice of allowing himself to be jettisoned from the vessel, and his three days in whale’s belly where from he was cast upon the shore, symbolises Christ’s three days in the tomb and subsequent resurrection. In the Apostolic Constitutions, the bishop surrounded by assembly of the faithful is compared to helmsman of a ship; but the idea is as old as Tertullian (De bap., by Tertullianus). As a recognized Christian symbol, Clement of Alexandria approved it for a signet ring. “Let the dove or the fish”, he says, “the vessel flying before the wind, — or the marine anchor be our signets” (Clementis Alexandrini Paedagogus). Preserved are numerous representations of ships, sometimes serving as the design for a lamp, with the figure of Christ or St. Peter as helmsman. The name which we still retain for the “nave” (French, nef) of a church bears testimony to the persistence of the same idea.” The ship symbol extends to architecture of the catholic church in its vaultings. The main body of the building, symbolising the longer arm of the cross, where worshippers congregate, is called the nave. The term is from navis, the Latin word for ship. Hence a cathedral is symbolically a ship bearing people of God through the storms of life. In addition, the high wooden roof of a large church, resembling the keel of an overturned ship, is similar in construction to the ship’s hull. The nave is braced on either side by lower aisles, separated from the main space by a row of piers or columns. The aisles facilitate movement of people, even when the nave is full of worshippers. They also strengthen the structure by buttressing the inner walls that carry the high roof, which in the case of many cathedrals and other large churches, is made of stone. The ship is also sometimes used as an emblem of St. Jude. In an illustration for Psalm 69 from the Belleville Breviary, chosen to accompany the sacrament of Confirmation, St. Peter lies in a boat on a storm-tossed sea while God blesses him from the heavens, symbolizing the soul’s refuge in times of trial in the ship of the Church which is blessed by God. Symbolically denoting a means of conveyance between this world and the next in Christian tradition, in which earthly life is seen as a pilgrimage, the ship of the church transports the faithful through seas of the world to the heavenly home. These metaphors are used in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales; tossed on the sea of life, the Dreamer finds safety by entering the Ship of the Church. At the end of his dream, the soul, at death, leaves the body and ascends heaven-wards. The Dreamer then wakes up and finds that he is at his monastery in Chalons. Likewise Custance’s first voyage aboard ship in The Man of Law’s Tale, marked by purpose and splendour, as compared to her subsequent voyage on a rudderless ship buffeted by turbulences, is subsumed within the larger icon of Christian church itself afloat on and navigating the waters of life. Considered in this light, my career years appear to be a thirty seven year chequered saga of a novice’s voyage of progressive skilling and self-realisation punctuated by stable going in fair winds, and pitching and rolling in spells of storm through high and low waters.
In the round world, what appears like an end may only mean another beginning. Life is about not knowing what lies ahead, adapting to the moment and making the best of it without again knowing what is going to happen next. With such resolute thoughts brimming with hope, I look forward to remaining days that will phase out my tenure and lead me to voyage homewards, ringing in strains of Rod Stewart’s famous song I picked up from a P&O ship in the early 1980s, “I am sailing, I am sailing / Home again ‘cross the sea / I am sailing, stormy waters / To be near you, to be free / I am flying, I am flying / Like a bird ‘cross the sky / I am flying, passing high clouds / To be with you, who can say /…Can you hear me, can you hear me / Through the dark night far away?/ I am dying, forever crying / To be with you, who can say, who can say /…..Oh Lord, to be near you, to be free / Oh my Lord, to be near you, to be free…”.