Am grateful for all the good things the year 2023 brought me. During these 12 months, I lived the 60th year of my life, and authored two books. I worked hard, with satisfactory results (or so I think). I was invited to Cannes, where Forbes recognised me as one of the top 10 influential chief marketing officers in the world for the second year running. Most importantly, this was a year of good health, after a scare two years ago.
There are also things that I failed to do well in 2023, including some important relationships which I did not succeed in. A new book I have been working on progressed only in fits and starts. I did not consistently walk 10,000 steps a day, which had been my absolute resolve at the start of the year. I could not say no to many requests, though I wanted to. This list is long, but I will stop here, because I want to speak about a unique high point of the year.
2023 was the year when unusual conversations enriched my life. We all know that conversations are important in building connections, exchanging information, providing emotional support, expressing love and generating ideas. Typically, these are conversations with your partner, family members, colleagues, bosses, team members and friends. All these types of conversations did happen during the year, but what surprised me were the many unexpected conversations, each of which taught me something important. Here are some of them.
Conversations with strangers
On a train journey from Paris to Cannes, I met an elderly French grandmother, and spoke with her for over two hours while eating chocolate truffles. She told me about the medical practice she used to run many years ago, and the care with which she would treat her patients. She narrated a few interesting stories from her past, including what the Paris of the 1960s was like. I told her about my own career too, my workplace and all the marketing stuff I have done over the years. She wanted to know more about India, and particularly about my hometown of Bengaluru. I gave her the lowdown, including some downbeat tales about the unfortunate traffic situation in the city. It was an enjoyable, uplifting conversation. She was perhaps 90 years old, and to see her positive energy at that age was inspiring. I told myself that I should aspire to be as positive as she is throughout my own life.
Conversations with celebrities
At a World Cup cricket match in the Wankhede stadium, Mumbai, I had the unique opportunity of sitting next to a superstar for several minutes, even as we watched the match together. He was Rajinikanth, the one and only “Thalaiva” who has millions of fans across the world. Yet when I asked if I could sit next to him, he readily agreed, inviting me to be at ease. I spoke to him in Tamil, telling how much I admired his movies, and he responded so readily and gracefully. He predicted that day India would win the semi-final match against New Zealand hands-down, which our team promptly did, perhaps fortified by Thalaiva’s presence in their midst. This was a brief conversation, but what blew me away was Rajinikanth’s humility. He is a mega star, and yet he was so down to earth, and so accessible. This is unlike many other celebrities I have encountered, who maintain an air of aloofness, even arrogance. That brief conversation reminded me once again the value of humility in our lives.
Conversations with long lost friends
At the start of the year, my Alma Mater (BITS Pilani) organised its global alumni meet at Jaipur. There, I met some college friends whom I had not seen for over 40 years. We spoke about our respective careers and lives, the passions we had developed and also some knocks we had taken along the way. It was amazing to learn through these conversations how many of the people I knew on college campus had become successful entrepreneurs. Some of the late evening conversations morphed into the enthusiastic and soulful singing of old Hindi film numbers, steered by a few die-hard members of the college music club. Then, we also stood silently together over a warm campfire, listening to the music band Indian Ocean on a cold winter night. This taught me that meaningful conversations do not necessarily require people to speak to each other—they can occur through music or through silence as well.
Conversations with writers and comedians
In my corporate day job, virtually all my interactions are with corporate people, who are like me: people in formal attire, talking corporate language, making presentations, and writing official sounding emails. However, I also participated in a few literary festivals during the year to talk about my books. Here, I met writers, poets and stand-up comedians. I discovered that conversations with them naturally traversed entirely different subjects, such as catching the right turn of phrase, how best to write about painful episodes from one’s past, building strong characters, why a callback works so well in a comedy show, and why poetry is popular in Sweden. In all these conversations, there was no corporate jargon and no PowerPoint presentations. On the other hand, they were beautiful, meandering chats about interesting aspects of life. This made me realise that there are so many parallel worlds out there, so dissimilar to the worlds that we live in every day. These parallel worlds can provide us new insights and much joy. That’s why it is important to step outside our own little worlds every now and then, and converse with the type of people we don’t often meet in our workplaces.
Conversations with nature
Perhaps the best conversations I have had this year have been with nature, even as I have walked all by myself in parks, small towns or on the beautiful walking track in the apartment complex where I live. I have looked at the trees, leaves and flowers, sometimes paused by their side, and spoken to them about so many things that are always on my restless mind. I have used these conversations with myself to clarify what I would like to do with the rest of my life. Sometimes, these silent walks and chats have helped me resolve ongoing workplace or personal issues in my own mind. Conversations with nature are therapeutic, and I would like to do many more of them in the years ahead.
On that note, thank you 2023, for all that you have given me. You have been a wonderful year of conversations. I look forward to many more such chats in 2024. A Happy New Year to all of you!
Harish Bhat is a marketer, author and poet. He has just retired from his role as brand custodian at Tata Sons. Some of his finest conversations have been with books.