Being at the center stage matters. It matters to most people, if not all. Everyone loves to be the center of attention, all eyes glued, flashlights, single-handed performance and all. I was like that. And for a major part of me, I am still like that. Yet there’s a less vociferous side of me that often longs to be part of a background. To be just a tiny part.
Many times now, I want to be just one of the faces in a big group photograph. Instead of the photographer calling the shots or the most expressive face at the center, I wish to just slip behind someone. If there’s a stage, I long to be behind it – running errands, tidying make-ups, bringing a glass of water to a thirsty artiste, holding lipstick for a prima donna, re-arranging plates of someone’s saree, straightening someone’s tie, prompting a script, sweeping the floor after a spill, cleaning someone’s spectacles before his performance, stretching my arms to contain a bunch of kids after their successful dance, holding a curtain tightly to prevent it from falling.
As against this, in the past, I have stood stylishly holding the mike – either singing or delivering an elaborate argument against the topic. Even in a group patriotic song, I have sung the two most crucial lines or ‘alaaps’. On Independence Day, I have hosted the entire event. In a 100-meter race, I have stood first. In a volleyball match, I have been the ‘star server’. And trust me, now, it all looks so boring, almost monotonous. And I am not alone in thinking that way. After the school/college annual event, whenever I would come back with a bag of cups and medals, my mother’s reaction used to be: “Again? Now where will I keep those?”
But my happier moments have been this: the goose bumps I felt when our class in school got the Best Class Award for the third time; the way we hugged each other when after failing for three consecutive years, we got into the semi-finals of the volleyball tournament; the time when the play in which I was playing the protagonist was dropped and I got a small part in another play; the way we all jumped when we got the second prize in a group patriotic song competition; the time when we all held our breaths as the audience stood up shouting ‘once more’ when our band finished singing ‘Vande Mataram’.
And so it totally amuses me now when people talk about ‘leading’ and ‘controlling’. Of course these are great qualities but I feel like I don’t want to remember the achievements related to these. I would rather count the times when I was not important in a project, only essential in a small way. Those experiences, of being humbled to a low position, of being given tiny tasks, somehow succeeded in making me a better professional, a better person.
Most young people who I know do not desire to be a team player. They are just very eager to be a team leader. It’s almost like wanting to be a cheer leader without ever cheering. I really think I would never appreciate a leader unless I see a few qualities of his team in himself. I would be smitten by a leader who wouldn’t mind sitting on his subordinate’s desk for half the day if the work required.
In India, unfortunately, we weigh work by the smallness and bigness of it. A CEO should do this. This is not the work of the Director. This is what is expected out of a Peon. Of course we have key areas whenever we work in a certain position. But how can I ever lose sight of the work which is pending right before our eyes and I am not doing it simply because ‘it is not my job.’? Pick any management book, or a manager biography, you will see that a good manager is not ashamed of the tasks. He needs to get things done by others but if required, he is also ready to slip into someone else’s shoes.
As I am learning and reading more about things, people and life in general, I am realizing how vital it is to be a background. Even our Formula One winner would be a nobody without his back-up team. He wouldn’t probably be alive if it weren’t for his team members. And so when he wins, the entire team celebrates. But what if every team member wants to drive the racing car? There would probably be no winners at all. Or no races.
I realize when I do smaller tasks, I learn about detailing. I learn to really live up to what ‘meticulous’ stands for. I learn to put little pieces together. And then when I am done, I am able to see the bigger picture more clearly. What’s more, these smaller tasks humble me. They give me this amazing chance of constant introspection. What I learn as a ‘background’ is more lasting and life-changing than what I would learn as the cynosure. The Bible has this amazing one-liner: He who is faithful in small things, is faithful in bigger ones and he shall be rewarded.
While learning photography as students of mass communication, we were taught the importance of ‘Depth of Field’. The DOF is the stretch of the background in a photograph. The more the DOF, the better the photograph. To me, the term ‘depth of field’ gives out an unmistakable lesson. The deeper the field, the better is the effect of the subject. The only condition is my willingness to become a ‘field’ instead of the ‘subject’. And that shall ultimately determine my ‘depth’.
So from now on, I have decided to do even the tiniest of things more faithfully. Do you wanna join me?