Spice of life: When less is more
The school hall was packed with excited students. Ramsharan, my opponent, was announcing his promises. “I will ensure more playtime, improve the quality of rice in the canteen, enlarge the dining hall, get new furniture in classes, plant flowers on the path between the hostel and the school, ensure that tap water is available, get a stationery shop near the school,” he went on and on.chandigarh Updated: Jun 16, 2015 09:40 IST
The school hall was packed with excited students. Ramsharan, my opponent, was announcing his promises. “I will ensure more playtime, improve the quality of rice in the canteen, enlarge the dining hall, get new furniture in classes, plant flowers on the path between the hostel and the school, ensure that tap water is available, get a stationery shop near the school,” he went on and on.
It was election time in 1940 in our school in Lyallpur (now in Pakistan). The entire school would vote for a prefect for the next year. I had decided to contest.
By the time it was my turn to speak to the students, I was tongue-tied. Ramsharan had stolen my thunder. He had already expounded all my promises. So, I just assured the class that I would be an efficient and honest prefect. My friends wrote me off.
It was a horrendous situation. In the evening, I sought time with Mr Sapra, our sagely principal, whose counsel I trusted. “What do I do, sir? Ramsharan has hijacked all the assurances I wanted to give to the students,” I beseeched him.
“Look, Hari,” explained my principal, “always remember, less is more. Pick up a few points and work on them rather than make a laundry list of deliverables.” He added, “Always keep time with you to deliver promises. Promise that you will get the garden replanted within eight months and do it in seven months. Then you will be respected. However, if you promise to do it in five months, and take six months instead, you will be considered a failure. Always promise little, deliver more.” That night, I could not sleep. I reflected on my principal’s advice. I realised his words were real pearls of wisdom. By next morning, the strategy to fight the election was clear in my mind.
I decided to reduce my 10 promises to just three. I would focus on enlarging the dining hall, covering our daily walking path with a layer of grass and have a doctor visit the school weekly. Moreover, I would seek nine months to deliver. At the next election meeting, I announced my brief agenda. There was a stunned silence. Ramsharan and his team were ecstatic. They wrote me off.
The atmosphere was electric on election day. Within three hours, the entire school had voted through secret ballot. I expected to lose. However, I was staggered to find that I had scraped through and won by one vote. We got down to executing our three promises and concluded each activity a month before schedule.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has completed a year in office and there is a fervent debate about his performance, even though a year is a short period to judge any public official. Managing India with its multifarious issues such as religious diversity, economic disparities and regionalism is an onerous task.
Modi has promised generously: a corruption-free government, rapid economic growth, toilets for all Indians, improvements in urban infrastructure, 100 new cities, bank accounts for villagers, global role for India, etc.
Perhaps Modi should focus on basic deliverables that matter to the common man, such as ending endemic corruption, jobs for the youth, toilets for all, improving infrastructure in urban areas, and building just five new cities per year. It would help to split his ambitious agenda by the year and deliver annually.
Seeing the mountain of problems confronting Modi, I recollect the straightforward advice that my principal gave me 75 years ago: less is more; promise little, deliver more.