When Less is More

When Less is More - Seniors Today

Sure, living life to the max has its attractions, but are we ultimately losing out in the bargain, asks Nagesh Alai

Yeh dil maange more – remember the catchy Hinglish Pepsi ad way back in the late 1990s? It simply means that we cannot be just satisfied with just one, but need more. Symbolic of the people’s psyche in those times, as it is today!

The other day my investment advisor handling my ‘nothing to write home about’ portfolio reached out with a review of my portfolio, returns and some options. Not unexpectedly, she mentioned that it is always good to look at a long-term horizon for investments to turn in more returns. I was a bit quizzical about ‘long-term’ and ‘more’ considering that a senior citizen like me, or anybody for that matter, could be here today and gone tomorrow. She, of course, was not amused with my tongue-in-cheek repartee, but neither did she have a cogent answer to the definition of ‘long-term’ or ’more’. She is no exception, no one in the investment advisory does really, for long-term is a safe approach and can be used to rationalise both a positive and a negative outcome after the ‘long-term’ ends. 

But it does beg the question. To me long-term and more is a search for certitude in a life of incertitude – it does sound oxymoronic, if I may. 

When Less is More - Seniors Today

Ease of plenty

Civilisational progress, starting from pastoral inventions of hoary yore to technological innovations of contemporary today, in real terms, has meant ease of living, ease of food on the table, ease of access, excess production and consumption, economic disparities and of course environmental dangers and ecological unsustainability. Typical of human foibles, such fears are dismissed as too ‘long-term’ to really worry, though voices to go green are increasing in decibel and cadence. Will tomorrow ever be if we don’t live today?

Fed as we have been with the fear of insecurities of life, the word ‘more’ has been twisted around to mean ‘infinite’. It has had its impact on our mindsets of never being satisfied but ever crave for more. The search never really ends from birth to rebirth. ‘More’ has perhaps morphed to ‘so less’. 

Many would have perhaps heard this apocryphal story about Akbar. Known for his munificence, a poor mendicant went to the king to seek some gifts. As he was waiting, he heard the king praying for more wealth, property and honour. The mendicant thought to himself that the all-powerful king himself is no less a beggar than he. Hence, he went off. On hearing of this, Akbar had him fetched. The king enquired why he went away without taking any gift. The mendicant said that he heard the king asking God for more wealth, more property and more honour and hence thought that the king’s wants may be a thousand times more than his own. How can you, a beggar yourself, then help me in my need? It’s a telling comment on human psychology of chasing ‘more’. 

Which brings me back to my reference to civilisation. We all were hunters and gatherers at one time. Progress has transformed all of us, save for a few tribes like the Hadzabe in Tanzania or say the Sentinelese in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in India. Both tribes are near extinction with a maximum of about 1,500 Hadzabes and about 200 to 400 Sentinelese known to exist. Unspoilt by civilisation and development, they continue to be hunters and gatherers the traditional way. The respective governments are doing their best to preserve them though both tribes are under constant threat of encroachment into their lands and way of living. The Hadzabe tribe seemingly are not sequestering themselves as much as the Sentinelese, who violently stave off any visitors to their lands.  

 

When Less is More - Seniors Today

Bare necessities

Interestingly, I came across a couple of videos depicting an adventurer spending a few days with the Hadzabe tribe to see how they live and survive. They essentially hunt animals, anything that moves, and live off the land and what nature has to offer them. They hunt when they are hungry and everything is a shared experience. Baboons, antelopes, zebras, bats and birds are their favourite meat and honey is their favourite drink. They drink water out of watering holes like animals do. They have a pack of dogs to aid them in their hunt. Their shelter is just the ground with a thatched roof overhead. 

It was a revelation to hear their simple uncomplicated answers to some real existential questions. Here are some of the nuggets. When asked about what is most important to them in life, they say it is meat and honey. They tread and run miles and miles across the vast barren lands every day to hunt and forage for food. When asked what they fear the most, they say they are scared of lions, cheetahs and elephants. When asked what they feel about death, they say they don’t think about it. But if someone dies, they put him or her in the caves and celebrate the death so that if the dead was suffering from anything, then that pain will go away. When asked about after-death, they simply say that they don’t know where they go – heaven or somewhere else. 

Clearly, the Hadzabe tribe’s (as it would be of the Sentinelese, I am sure) moment to moment living, simplicity and lack of any material comfort seem to keep them happier and healthier than many ‘civilised’ humans who have it all. They are humans like us, but vastly different in attitude and outlook to life.

 

When Less is More - Seniors Today

Return to nature

Contrastingly, in spite of all the education, intelligence, wisdom, religion, machinery, medical advancements, science and technology, an average evolved human being is extraordinarily insecure and covetous for most parts of life, leading to several maladies of the mind and body, threats and devastations of one dimension or the other that abound all around us.

Several people known to me have farmhouses in lush rural areas where they occasionally wind down to live a farmer’s simple but tough life. Several escape from their cities and go off on treks to the mountains to experience nature living. Eco-tourism and village living are taking off. Perhaps this is a realisation of what they have lost out over the years due to progress and attempts to get back a little of nature and temperance in living. Minimalistic living, dropping excess baggage, home education, shifting to agriculture for self-consumption of organic food, selling off cars, moving to smaller houses, etc are but signs of conscious living and reducing pressure on resources and nature. 

Our experiences are our best teachers. Everyone has a lurking fear and uncertainty about a post-retired life. About finances and health and family and everything under the sun. Suffice it to say that one will soon realise that finally we will be on our own, we can have a healthy life with the bare essentials and if one has been prudent during working life, savings can go a long way. Returns may be important, but attitude will save the day. Through our active working lives, metaphorically speaking, we have been competing to stay ahead, hunting to gather, gathering to hoard, fretting to look after and increase the hoard and worrying about what will happen to it post our last sunset. The enjoyment of the short term loses out to the worry of the long term. 

To end the write with a simple thought – tomorrow is today spent having a ball. Now is so much more in life, less is so much more in life.

About Nagesh Alai

Nagesh Alai is a management consultant, an independent director on company boards, and cofounder of a B2B enterprise tech startup. He retired in 2016 as the Group Chairman of FCB Ulka Group and Vice Chairman FCB Worldwide. Elder care and education are causes close to his heart.

View all posts by Nagesh Alai

2 Comments on “When Less is More”

  1. The vocabulary used is tough, I had to consult the dictionary after every few lines and eventually gave up mid-way.

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