Stubbornness can be both vice and virtue, distinguished, perhaps, by a sense of time and place, as well as the manner of its expression. When Lord Karan Bilimoria was just eight years old, he articulated what would become his defining tenacity with steadfast logical clarity. Something did not add up and his boyish sense of fairness and sensibility balked.
He had been enrolled in the Loyola College in Kerala, India, where his father — then a colonel in the Gorkha Battalion — had been posted. Even at that age, he knew that his family would relocate around the country every couple of years and was miffed at having to learn Malayalam, a language spoken exclusively in the south Indian state.
“Loyola College was a Jesuit school and one of the leading institutions around, so it was very strict,” recounts Bilimoria. “I remember bringing comic books to school one day and was sent to the headmaster’s office to be caned. There was an order that everyone would learn Malayalam, but I didn’t see the point. I argued with my parents over the directive and said, ‘Why do I have to learn Malayalam? It’s only useful in Kerala and you’re going to be posted somewhere else soon. So why am I wasting my time?’ They just said, ‘Please learn Malayalam. You’ve been ordered to do it or you will be sent to the headmaster and caned.’
“So I said okay. I went back to the classroom and then asked myself again: What am I doing here? This is a waste of time. I complained to my parents again and they said, ‘Right, we’re going to report you to the headmaster ourselves now. Go back to class.’”
Bilimoria acquiesced but he did not let the matter rest. Instead, he thought, “This is going to carry on. I can keep complaining and going back and forth, but what is the solution?”
He came up with a proposition that he presented to his parents. “I told them, ‘You know, you’re going to be posted all over India and I know I’m going to have to speak Hindi because that’s the national language. I’m going to have to study it as a second language for my exams later on, so why can’t I learn that now instead of Malayalam? There must be other children of officers or company executives who also have to learn. I can’t be the only one.’”
Within a month, a Hindi teacher had been hired for 26 students in similar circumstances. Bilimoria learnt then that he could complain as much as he liked about something, but there was no running away from problems. What mattered instead was the solution.
For the full story, pick up a copy of The Edge Malaysia (July 29, 2019) at your nearest news stand. Save by subscribing to us for your print and/or digital copy.