Shivoo and I went to meet an old friend, Guru, Shivoo’s classmate from IIM Bangalore. His office was in the area where we grew up so it had its own charm, where we had eaten one too many mangoes, bhelpuri, broken couple of windows in our hay days of cricket …
When we walked in, Shivoo was greeted by Ram.
Shivoo: Can I meet Guru? (Before I could tell my name)
Ram: Raju, Tell Guru, Shivoo has come to meet him
Shivoo: <surprised> How did you know my name?
Ram: You had visited us once last year ..right?
Shivoo: I am impressed man!
What was more impressive was that he was visually impaired and he had recognized me only by my voice ! The entry to Guru’s office mesmerized me. As I entered his office, I could see only smiling faces all around. Everybody were calling each other by their first names which was a unique sight considering it was one of the biggest CA firms in Bangalore and there were no AC, no cabins for senior managers and all uniform chairs around the office.
Shivoo: Ram, why don’t you call Guru?
Ram: Sir ,we do not have intercoms in our office. We only talk to one another face to face here because we know the person feels happier when we talk face to face
Shivoo: But aren’t you wasting time trying to keep everyone happy?
Ram: No Sir, technology might help increase the efficiency. But sometimes too much technology makes use lose the personal touch which is the main theme of our office. Moreover Happy person delivers quality job and faster service ! So eventually you get the same work done at the same time with much better quality !
IN CONVERSATION WITH GURU
Giving has been a way for you. What got you interested in the first place and how has it evolved?
It all started 26 years back. I did not come from an affluent family. I was a heavy smoker those days burning up to 20 cigarettes a day. I passed my CA exam (which was a rarity) and got into an auto rickshaw in that high. Lighting up a cigarette the auto rickshaw driver, Abdul (known to me), asked me one question – “Sir you have become a big man today, but what is the difference between you and I? You smoke a cigarette while I smoke a beedi.” This got me thinking. I took a last puff, stubbed out the cigarette and told him – I can kick the habit while you cant. Its been 26 years, and I haven’t taken a single puff.
What Abdul did that day, changed my life. So every Ramzan, I would go to his house with a new shirt and have a cup of tea. He would ask me the same set of questions. “Sir you have made it as a big man, where is your new house and what is the car you are driving?” This continued for many years and Abdul also started doing well and growing his family. One year I got down thinking, because of him I got to where I am, all that I can do is a measly shirt? Cant I do anything more ? I also realized that I was giving him the shirt, because it was making me happy. There was a lot of selfishness in this selflessness. I was giving for my sake. I then decided that I need to give to people who are not connected to me. Importantly, I wanted to see the impact as, just giving ruins people.
I did not give anything for a few years, as I hadn’t found a cause to give. I wanted to create a social enterprise model that the Ambani’s had created. They gave employment to millions. This was my thought and when we started Guru & Jana, our CA firm. When we started the company there used to be one person (whom I would wish not to name) who used to serve us tea, clean the toilets and do all the odd jobs at work. Today he is a senior manager, leading a great life – with a car, own house and takes fabulous holidays. Another is the person managing our front desk, Ram who is visually challenged. He has an amazing memory, can remember numbers, people’s voices and recognizes our repeat visitors on their perfume or their voice. They have been with us for over 10 years now. This led to the start of my journey of creating a socially sustainable enterprise.
“I realized that I was giving him the shirt, because it was making me happy. There was a lot of selfishness in this selflessness.”
“The chequebook philanthropy will not take us anywhere”
So what have been your biggest successes in this journey?
We currently support 100 children. Giving fees is the easiest thing to support a child, but the chequebook philanthropy will not take us anywhere. We requested the young professionals in the office to volunteer in a program where these youngsters will go to the houses of these kids and mentor them month on month to develop intellectual, moral, physical and hygiene values. The 100 students are all over Bangalore and usually someway connected to office – servant’s kids, security guards kids, vendor’s kids, BBMP workers kids, or one of the employee’s servant’s kids. We also have full-time tutors who go over to the student’s home and mentor them to build character, leadership qualities, educating them on hygiene, as mathematics alone can’t build character. This has been an enriching experience.
The other interesting story that was a great success is the old age home initiative. When the Tsunami hit India in Dec 2004, my colleagues and I decided to go and support the rehabilitation efforts in Chidambaram. We raised Rs. 30 Lakhs in the matter of 2 hours from our clients. When we got to Chidambaram we realized that the villages and entire communities were wiped out. We realized that money can do very little in what was needed to be done. We worked with the local authorities and helped many people with dignified last rites. We came back with a heavy heart and unspent purses. We did not want to just give the money to the NGOs or the local leaders, as it was extremely political. We wanted to return the money back to our clients. The clients asked us to find another “socially appropriate” avenue to spend these funds. We found a old-age home for dying and destitute that was in dire need of funds. We used these funds collected to build an new home, which houses over 70 destitute to live with dignity.
Who have you looked to for guidance and inspiration as a fellow philanthropist?
Mahatria is my teacher and has been a key influencer. He used to run a large software company. One of his friend’s wife committed suicide. Deeply impacted with this incident, he left his corporate journey and started work on self-help. He has 3 million followers today. When I met him, he told me that the only service you can do the world – is moving away from usual CA model. Most of them are doing it wrong, by making life complicated for their clients or cheat the government by not filing the right taxes. Please make CA very simple for the people and also be clean and transparent with your dealings. He has been one of my driving forces.
The other person apart from Abdul and Mahatria, was my father. My son, when he was two years old used to love the Lays potato chips. I used to buy him one when we used to go out. My father would ask him for a few chips from that packet. One day very curiously I asked my dad, “why don’t I buy you a separate packet, why do you always ask the kid?”. He then told me something which stuck with me even today – “I am teaching him to give. How will he learn? If he wont give me some chips today? How will he give one rupee when he has 10 rupees and one crore when has a 10 crores”. It’s still the same 10%. He had limited means, but he still gave.
My father said “I am teaching him to give. How will he learn? If he won’t give me some chips today from his packet”
My big lesson – Don’t expect anything. If you expect, you only get sorrow. If you expect people to thank you, then it’s a futile exercise. Trust everybody. Without that you can’t live. We have been cheated by schools, vendors, agencies, NGOs, and even people. But, we have to trust and go back and invest to do our bit to give to society.
If a person is interested in your causes – education, old-age home, or other initiatives what’s your advice? Where should they start?
I need more tutors and teachers. That is my current need. If any of you are interested in this, please get in touch with me. There is no better time to start than now. Start today. Don’t look at how much money you can give. Cultivate sensitivity and compassion towards the people around you. That’s a good start.
About Guru Prasad
Guru is the Founding Partner and heads the Consulting Team and Indirect Tax Team at Guru and Jana.
The firm has a unique way of life and character, which, led by Guru, leads to thought leadership, empowerment and action.
A Chartered Accountant with a degree in law and commerce, Guru brings over 20 years of experience to the firm. An alumni of the Indian Institute of Management, he also holds a diploma in counseling. Guru has been a member of the Auditing Standards Board of ICAI and has authored seven technical guides on internal audit.
He has published a book ‘Banter Beyond The Buck’ and is an avid global traveler and Tabala player.