My father-in-law, Haribhai Chhaya, has turned 100. It was a great joy for family and friends to celebrate the 100th birthday of a man who is walking, talking, listening, reading and having one to two bottles of beer in the evening before dinner.
As a centurion, he is in excellent health.
He was born and raised in Bhuj, Kutch. His father, Somjibhai, was a judge in Bhuj. Haribhai did his schooling in Kutch and then went to Ferguson College in Pune to get his B.Sc. and LL.B. Thereafter, he joined local government working for Kutch state and the British Raj. He has told us many stories of his early days at work when he needed to travel on a horse to visit remote areas of Kutch.
I met Haribhai for the first time in 1962 in Baroda where he was a Land Acquisition Officer for the Koylie Refinery Project. From there, he moved on to become a District Collector in Surat and later in Bhuj, during a major earthquake in 1964. He also served in Godhra as Director of Transport and Inspector General of a prison. After his formal retirement in 1974, he worked for a couple of years as a tribunal judge in Ahmedabad.
I got to know him well in Baroda, and in 1966, I proposed to marry his daughter, Anu. Unfortunately, Haribhai lost his wife, Jyotibala, in 1974. They jointly raised four daughters and one son. Finally, we convinced him to move to Chicago in 1980. His son, Yash, also moved with him and did his MBA in Chicago. While they lived with us, he was a great teacher, mentor, and a wonderful grandfather to both of our kids, Salil and Rajal. They learned from him a great deal about Indian culture, mythology, the Ramayana, and the Mahabharata.
Throughout his professional career in the government, he was well respected for his honesty and commitment to public service. To me, it was surprising that when he retired in 1974, his entire life savings was 40,000 rupees. When I learned this, I was not only shocked, but a bit worried about his future security and well-being.
However, he was confident and comfortable to live on a small government pension. Rarely have I heard of a government IAS (Indian Administrative Services) officer retiring with only Rs. 40,000 for his lifetime of service. Haribhai always lived a modest, simple, Gandhian lifestyle throughout his career.
Having lived with him and around him for the last 50 years, it is important for me to reflect on the secret of his longevity. I find five fundamental lessons from his life.
1. Regulated, disciplined lifestyle. Always get up early, get ready, have simple breakfast, exercise a little bit, and read. Have lunch exactly at 12, take an afternoon nap, have tea at 4 p.m. and read, beer at 6 p.m., dinner at 7:30 p.m. and watch TV and read again. Eat simple vegetarian lunch and dinner with daal, roti, sabji, and rice. During celebrations, indulge in pakora and bhujia. Always sleep at 10 p.m. No matter what happens, he strictly adheres to his schedule.
2. Simplicity in everything. No needs, no demands, no fuss, no expectations from anybody. If you meet his daily minimum needs, he will devote his time to reading, telling stories, and helping others.
3. Lots of love from kids, grandkids, and great grandkids. He likes to live with the family and gets excited when there are grandchildren around. The only sign of unhappiness that I have ever seen in him is when grandchildren leave home for their college at the end of vacation. He loves to play cards and carrom with the kids. He also loves gardening and growing vegetables for the family.
4. Continue to learn, read a lot, and watch sports on TV. After coming to America, he learned all about American football, baseball, and basketball, while continuing his interest in cricket and tennis. While I was in London working at Worldtel, he visited me and was overjoyed to watch the Wimbledon game in person. Even today, he reads at least five to six hours a day. He reads about everything. He is a genuine scholar on Napoleon. I just got him a new nine hundred and seventy-six-page book on Napoleon’s life by Andrew Roberts, which he finished reading in a few weeks. Even at this age, he wants to learn more about history and the world. He published his first book at the age of 90.
5. Enjoy living in the present. He likes to talk about the past, never thinking about the future. He definitely enjoys the present with his beer in one hand and book in the other hand. To him, life is all about living day by day, hour by hour, with discipline, simplicity, and curiosity. Life is about exploring, loving, and caring.
At present, he lives with his son, Yash, and daughter-in-law, Pravina, in Chicago.
(Sam Pitroda is a former technology adviser to the Indian prime minister. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at Sam@sampitroda.com)