Like many fathers, mine had a list of aphorisms he’d repeat. One of his favorites was “You come with nothing and you go with nothing.”
Last year, I got the middle of the night phone call every immigrant fears. It was too late to say goodbye. Landing in Chennai, coming home, and seeing him, so alone and still, the memory of his words resonated strongly.
This week, I’m in India again to mark the first anniversary of my father’s passing. One of the unavoidable side effects of this trip is being forced to think about life and purpose.
My father will be remembered for starting a company that focused on innovation and excellence, establishing environmental and worker safety standards much ahead of its time. More importantly, he’ll be remembered by employees for recognizing their contribution as vital to the organization. When the company was awarded the Deming Prize, my father took top management and union leaders to Japan so they could all accept the prize together.
He’ll be remembered for his creativity and love for tinkering, creating a go-kart from scratch while a student at IIT, Madras. And for taking apart the Nano, one of India’s new generation of small cars, slicing through the body and putting it back together to make it even smaller (and fully functional). More importantly, people will remember his infectious joy at solving a challenge he set for himself, his curiosity, his unwillingness to give up, and, despite his deep appreciation for the effort that created the ideal car for the country, his delight at having bettered something hundreds of engineers had worked on.
He’ll be remembered for his obsession with photography. For the incredible images that captured the scale and devotion of religious festivals of Madurai (as in the photo above), and the detailed and intricate ones that captured the delicate beauty of flowers. More importantly, he will be remembered by the people he taught to be photographers and by the people he impacted with his photography.
In a world where leaders are criticized for putting profit above all else, he will be remembered for how he lived with complete integrity.
What we leave behind are not just the things we create, but the enduring impact of how we do our work and pursue our passions.
It’s something I have thought a lot about this past year and that I will continue to think about in the years to come.
My father took nothing with him. But between the coming and the going, he left a lot behind.