The Money Ceiling

Cracking-Paint

My grandfather was a buccaneering entrepreneur. People often cautioned him to temper the scale of his risks and the expansiveness of his ambition. His pithy response to those concerns were that he came to Bombay from Kumbakonam in a dhoti and if required he would return to Kumbakonam in a dhoti. Inspiring fearlessness faces adversity far more elegantly than a failed risk assessment.

The fear that binds us to wealth is the uncertainty of its true role in our lives. Money buys food & security. It need not buy love, confidence and inspiration. Although we often allow it to. Hence the uncertainty.

Work was the hunt that fulfilled my grandfather’s spirit. Money was a collateral result that had to be distributed. Our home had a regular stream of villagers from the south, seeking financial assistance to repair their homes or for the marriage of their children. Nobody left empty handed.

In the 80s, political sanctions on Libya and the Iran-Iraq war initiated a cascade of events that resulted in the Company he founded going bankrupt. The stream of villagers thinned out, but continued. When cash ran out he would give them my grandmother’s jewelry. He never opened a fixed deposit in his name. He was not a man of half measures.

As our debt pangs grew we prioritized our spending. Our telephone landline was cut for almost a year. When it rang back to life I would spend a few ecstatic minutes jumping with joy. Our living room ceiling had begun to peel. Sometimes chips would slip off and land with a muted thud and a puff of white dust on the carpet. When it happened in the middle of a conversation with guests, we would discuss our ceiling. It had turned into a mosaic of white plaster and grey cement. A proposal to re-plaster and paint it was rejected. My father said we had to wait until he could begin settling his debts. As a compromise we agreed to scrape all the plaster off and lived with a grey cement ceiling much before the Good Earth Store made it fashionable. His earnestness inspired us and gave a noble purpose to the state of our ceiling.

When I was in engineering college, my roommate’s father visited Bangalore once every 2-3 months on work. He would stay at the Taj on MG road and would invite us for a meal there. They were my precious excursions back into the ambience of wealth. My father visited once and stayed at the Woodlands Hotel. I met him alone in a small and spartan room and left early, disappointed that he could no longer afford a room at the Taj. He stood quietly outside his door as I left, sending me only love as a response to my dejection.

We sold our sprawling south Bombay apartment and moved into a small rented flat in Baroda. It was on the fourth floor in a non-descript building without elevators. He was in his mid-50s. He spent the first 20 years of his working life building his father’s firm into one of the rare Indian contenders in the global Oil & Gas industry. He spent the next 10 years working to contain its spectacular implosion and the last 5 years of his life rebuilding it from scratch. But I never heard a word of angst from him.

The climb up four stories enabled him to exercise and remain fit, he would tell me. We sat on the floor to eat dinner and he appreciated the fresh food my mother served us. Music played in the background of our evening conversations. He worked with the quiet resolve required to travel through the landscapes of failure.

Resurrecting a company from the brink without cash magnifies every minor problem into a crisis. But calmness was my father’s currency. Everytime we were hit by a wave of bad news, the normality in his responses would make my fears evaporate. If he is so relaxed, it can’t be that bad.

The simplicity, contentment and courage with which my parents & grandparents navigated through the throes of uncertainty allayed my confusion and rebuilt my faith. Money can’t buy love, confidence and inspiration – they come from within. Money can buy an elegantly plastered and painted ceiling, but I can wait as long as I need to for that if I have to.

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63 Replies to “The Money Ceiling”

  1. A heart rendering and absolutely fantastic blog entry. Thoughts about money and life rung true in this readers consciousness.

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    1. A wonderful expression ,depicting values that your Grandfather held despite being an entrepreneur and the adorable simplicity of Your father prudently emulated by you for all to learn from .
      A great piece of writing !!
      Raghavan Sarathy

      Liked by 1 person

  2. ‘The fear that binds us to wealth is the uncertainty of its true role in our lives’…..this is so insightful ….loved this blog. Pl keep writing….you missed your true profession….one for which the words probably formed when staring at the scraped ceiling.

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  3. The simple cadence of your writing belies the depth and richness of its meaning . Thoroughly enjoying your articles for their nostalgia, modesty, comfort in one’s skin, and the exquisiteness of frugality conveyed in them. Just had a cup of coffee with S and now it’s imbued with a whole new meaning..

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  4. Hi ,
    You spoke about our father as exquisitely as you’ ve done earlier with great elan.

    I was moved a lot about your feelings towards your father, our dear Elder Brother who has never shown any irritation on his face and always wore a smile until 1994 .

    I can never stop admiring your matured writing style and lofty views on Life.

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  5. Superb, I love the honesty with which this was written. I’m sure all of us can relate to this in one way or another…

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  6. I saw all of this as a close onlooker , while growing up and my impressions of your experience is exactly the same. This tells me how transparent and totally grounded all four of them were. Your style of writing the experience is a clear reflection that you are a chip of that same beautiful block. Admire the veins that run confidence, courage and inspiration, among other good things, in you.
    Love,
    Chitra

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  7. You have a way with words Anand, I could picture your grandfather, the ceiling, the meal your mum had cooked. A beautiful lesson elegantly told!

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  8. ‘Fearlessness faces adversity more elegantly….’how very true, and how wonderfully your have conveyed this in your blog Anand.
    Also enjoyed the the dry humour in your blog:)
    Keep writing …

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    1. Heartwarming. Poignant. Precise. Touching. Your prose becomes poetic at times. A splendid way to cherish the memory of your grandparents and dad. Your empathetic description at the hotel door spoke volumes about that noble soul. Keep at it buddy. More strength to you.

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  9. a truly remarkable characterisation of people who exampled the very best of Indian civilisation all mores that moulded their approach life.
    Outstanding writing that breathes life into two strong personalities.

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  10. Thank you for writing this, Anand. Very inspiring. I have heard you speak of this before, but the written word carries a rare cadence, and flavour, at which too, you are adept. Indeed, it is the willingness, and the quiet confidence to know that you, can, without effort, “Return to Kumbakonam in a Dhoti” that makes all the rest possible.

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  11. An excellent starting blog Anand. I didn’t know you had such an enterprising father. No wonder he has left such strong foundations. Vinay

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  12. Dear Anand,
    I have seen your parents go through such hard times so graciously and I have always been amazed at their inner strength and resolve.
    The candid way you have penned down your thoughts and experiences are so touching and they ignite a cord in us.
    What is life all about???
    We go chasing money and illusionary fame which is all ‘maya’ and whoosh ! before we know it ,everything disappears and we come empty handed and go empty handed.
    You are truly blessed to have such grounded and wonderful parents who have given you such strong values and selfless devotion.
    I am truly amazed at your beautiful blog ‘The Money Ceiling’ ,so touching and poignant.
    God bless you. Keep writing and inspiring others.
    ALL the best
    Mina

    Liked by 1 person

  13. This took me back in time to the 70s and 80s and you have captured the essence very well – a great ode to both your grandfather and your father – two wonderful men i have always admired. You have imbibed your grandfather and father’s qualities – and these are something I am sure your children will emulate!

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  14. Beautiful Anand. The picture of the cracked ceiling plaster is a perfect rep of your article.

    I used to think when I saw my 97 year old grandmother’s face, each wrinkle in it holds a story. Every crack in the plaster in one’s ceiling too, tells a story!

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  15. Anand never thought you could write so emotively. As for your father , my name sake , anyone who has come across him would admire him. Once again well written.

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  16. Excellent. I have no other words to express my feelings. What I am today is because of my association with your grandfather and father. God bless you all.

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  17. Dear Anand,

    I am glad you have started penning your thoughts .. writing to me is one of the best ways to communicate .. have enjoyed reading your first few contributions and clearly they have shaped you .. great insights .. keep flowing ..

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  18. Hi Anand
    This is a beautifully written piece that brought back the memories of the rise and fall of VTVL as a high technology project exporting company. I had the opportunity to interact very closely with your grandfather Mr. Ramanujam and your father , Mr. RV Raghavan during the years 1979 to 1984 as a banker. I also visited some of the magnificent projects built by your company in Libya , Kuwait and other mid eastern countries challenging the dominance of the western behemoths. It was tragic that during its excellent growth phase, misfortune struck in the form of gulf wars. Mr. RV Raghavan courageously handled a very difficult situation. I am sure under your leadership , VTVL will once again regain its glorious days that will be a fitting tribute to the entrepreneurial zeal of your grandfather and father.
    Wish you all the very best.
    Venkat

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  19. The legacy of your father and grandfather is so graciously carried forward by you Ananda. They must be so proud. As are we, your friends and fans.

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  20. Anand, this is a wonderful piece straight from the heart. I have some awareness of the situation back then and I can tell you that for us, our respect and admiration for your father never wavered. Wish you all the very best!.

    David Rasquinha

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  21. Hello Anand,
    Many thanks for sharing your blogpost with me. To say the least, I was very touched reading about your grandfather and how he faced the vicissitudes of life. Having been very close to him,you have derived some invaluable learning which would help you greatly to navigate your own life. In fact, his lifestyle and ability to cope with setbacks is an object lesson for all of us.
    I congratulate you for your frankness and for the well-written blog. I look forward to reading such gems of writing in the days to come.
    Gopal Uncle

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  22. Anand
    Thank you very much for sharing the link to your blog.
    It is very well written and brings out the high values followed by your parents and grand parents even under most unfavorable situations in life & usiness

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  23. Anand ,
    Thanks for sharing such a valuable experience .
    You are fortunate to have understood value of human value & limitation of Money at vey young age . You are blessed
    All the best

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  24. Thanks Anand for sending the link to your blog.. Preseving the ‘value system” is the true essence of life – money is ethereal. You were indeed blessed to have family members who lead by example. Thanks again for sharing the lesson of life.

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  25. Dear Anand

    I am truly moved by this beautifully written blog which evidently is straight from your heart.

    Indeed a amazing resolute family journey.

    Best wishes and blessings to everyone in your family.Keep this wonderful journey going.

    Warm regards

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  26. Thanks for sharing Anand, truly moving and well written article. Those times – simplicity and dedication of our grandparents and parents cannot come back, look forward to more such inspiring articles.

    Cheers, Prashant

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  27. Extremely thought provoking… Makes you pause for a while and think about how one has led their life and the relevance of understanding what should be the ‘means’ and what should be the ‘end’.

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  28. I am overwhelmed reading your masterpiece “The Money Ceiling”. And even more so hoping to catch up with your new blogs to come, now that you have plunged into your latest venture in creativity, writing – your True Love??. I feel this is IIM Ahmedabad stuff for a case study.
    Many thanks for including me in your mail-list and I shall definitely share with your many Admirers in KEL.

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  29. Anand
    A chance meeting and look what I’ve got. Eloquently put, yes the urge to share with family and friends is what makes it all worthwhile. Fearlessness faces adversity far more elegantly than a failed risk assessment – well said and it’s the true spirit of entrepreneurship.

    Keep writing
    Shoba Mohan

    Like

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