Rahul Sethi is currently an associate with Training Sideways. In his 37 years on this planet he has donned many caps depending on the weather, fashion trends and his mood in general. At times, he has chosen to not wear a cap and let the wind play with his hair.
“You can see the lights of Mussoorie shimmering in the night, right from here”. I remember my dad saying this to family members, friends and acquaintances innumerable times. Proudly showcasing his house in the pleasant valley of Dehradun to anyone that would care to lend an ear.
An officer of the Indian Economic Service, my father Harvinder Singh Sethi, or Harry as he is popularly addressed, was posted at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (LBSNAA), Mussoorie for two terms from 1977-79 and from 1982-88. It was during the second term that he acquired a house in Dehradun, the quiet valley town that is the gateway to the Queen of Hills. This he planned to be his retirement home, where after many fruitful years of labour he would finally put his feet up. Relax in a lawn chair amidst the dew glistening on leaves of soft green grass, soak in the warm rays of the sun on a crisp winter morning gazing out to the vistas of Mussoorie hills on the horizon. No urgency to finish that hot cup of tea, no rush-hour traffic to beat, no important files to peruse, no pressing issues of the office to attend to, just hours and days and weeks and months and years of complete relaxation.
In the winter of 2006, after nearly 37 years of service, my father finally decided that it was time to live his retirement dream. From the rented accommodation in Delhi, my parents moved to their own house in Dehradun. The idyllic lazy mornings that dad had dreamt of for the longest time, were finally a reality. And why just mornings, whole days and nights too. But, week after week, month after month, the idyllic lazy days were beginning to bear down on him now. He missed the purposefulness that his job had provided him with over nearly 4 decades. This ‘holiday’ was getting just too long.
He took on the project of extending the house – building the first floor. It kept him busy for almost a year. Then there was that vacuum again. He started consulting at a small NGO, helping them with project reports and the like. Sporadic work, not much sense of ownership, it failed to inspire him beyond a point. An avid music lover, he got involved in the activities of SpicMacay in Dehradun; joined the Punjabi Association on the behest of my Grandfather; even spent extended periods of time staying with us in Mumbai after the birth of my son Vihaan, doing what grandparents do – caring, nourishing, entertaining, engaging, loving, pampering. But we could see that deep down he was still searching for some purpose, something to be passionate about, to be driven by it.
On one occasion in Mumbai he attended a meeting of the Toastmasters Club in Bandra. Toastmasters is an international non-profit educational organization that builds public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of clubs. I remember dad after he attended the club’s meeting in Bandra, excitedly trying to convince me to become a member of the club. There was a sparkle in his eyes and a child like enthusiasm in his voice – he really wanted to join this club and for me to join as well. Not just because it would ease his commute to the club meetings but because he genuinely felt that I would benefit from it. I on the other hand, was at the time a slave of Mumbai’s home-office-home commute and didn’t fancy the prospect of giving up my precious commute-free Sunday to the activities of a public speaking club! And so the matter was vanquished, like so many other desires, by the tyranny of city life.
On his return to Dehradun, dad searched for the Toastmasters club there and when he found that one did not exist, he reached out to Toastmasters International and sought their guidance on setting up a new club. Over the next few weeks he connected with Toastmasters in Delhi to set in motion the process of founding a new club in Dehradun, and simultaneously started spreading word about the club among his social circle in Dehradun. He would even walk up to complete strangers at malls, at tea stalls outside colleges, at book launches and lectures, and speak to them about the Toastmasters Club. His passion about the club is visibly infectious. He also spoke with various corporate, educational and social organisations to find sponsorship, venues for club meetings and to conduct recruitment drives. On 2nd August 2015, the Toastmasters Club in Dehradun held its first meeting and what started with only one paid member – my dad – is today 31 paid members strong, and is considered one of the fastest growing and best managed clubs within the Toastmasters network in North India. Dad has been instrumental in setting up a Toastmasters Club in Roorkee earlier this year and is convening the inaugural meeting of the Toastmasters Club in Mussoorie as I write this piece on the 2nd of February 2016 – dad’s 69th birthday. He looks younger today than he did on his last birthday, more energetic though he sleeps a third of what he did earlier, busier at 69 than I am at 38, but most of all fulfilled once again. He has finally found that sense of purpose he had been sorely missing for almost a decade now. And that indeed is the best birthday gift for him.
Happy Birthday Dad!