The Curious Case of Mihir the Intern

Posted by Siddharth Sthalekar on Feb 24, 2015

Mihir KulkarniThe Sacred Capital office had recently been lit up by the presence of a bright eyed 20 year old. Still a college student, Mihir had come across some of my writing through a friend and after a couple interactions he wished to deepen his understanding of wealth, resources that entity known as money.
Right away, there was a strong resonance with some of Sacred Capital’s values. Mihir was keen to learn about the world’s monetary system, traditional forms of wealth and the subtle nuances of their flow in our lives.

He was very clearly on a mission. By day, he was an engineering student, and by night he would lap up text books that full time business school students would take weeks to grasp. Often, we would end up having long conversations over diagrams and flow charts on the big black board in the office. Chalk flying everywhere as I frantically scribbled, Mihir’s wide eyed expression egged me on to keep speaking for hours in the room dimly lit by flickering LED screens with tickers and charts.

After a particularly long conversation on where the economic system was taking us, Mihir paused and happened to ask me what most people ask me – ‘How is what you learnt at the Gandhi Ashram relevant to all this?’ I paused. It had been an interesting time for me too – to balance all that I had learnt on the trading floor and the Gandhi Ashram.
“I learned to look at wealth in a new perspective. I learned how we can create value without pegging its value to notes of currency that are printed by the RBI. I learned that different forms of wealth need different approaches.”

And so, we dived into a conversation around this – much along the lines of several other talks. From his expression, I could see that he found all of it impressive. But I realized he hadn’t entirely internalized some of these principles, so I had to do something about it.

We were to meet a few days later, and just the morning before he walked into office – I thought of an interesting experiment for him. I had decided to gift him a small sum of money – but there were a few rules that he had to abide by. As I gifted him the money, I offered him this letter

Experiment with Money Mihir Letter“Good Morning, and Happy Thursday.
Today, you have been gifted a certain sum of money. As a trustee of this money, you are being requested to utilize it as wisely as possible. You can choose to circulate this money within your community, or hold it as a static resource for safe keeping. You can buy something material with it, or something intangible.
You can choose to give this money in return for something, or you can offer it unconditionally. You can use it to consume something yourself, or you can choose to do something for another person – a friend, family member or even a stranger.
Whatever you decide, treat this as an experiment to understand your relationship with money and how you flow it. There are no right answers. There are only opportunities to stretch our boundaries and learn in the process.
There are however, a few rules for this game.

  • These notes of currency will self-destruct in exactly 7 days. On Thursday, 29th January, 2015 at 11 am, these notes will turn to ash, and will return to the soil from which they sprung.
    You can use no more than 10% of the money in any one particular way.
Your role is to question how much magic you can ignite with the resources you possess. Through this you might broaden your perspective on what ‘Value’ is. You will also begin to unlock different forms of Capital – from the subtle (like ties in your community, or inner well-being) to the tangible (like physical objects or financial resources in the bank). I suspect that you will have to walk the fine balance between Greed and Need, Fear and Abundance and Transaction and Trust.
I look forward to hearing results from your experiment. May the flow be with you.
As he read it, both of us had huge smiles on our faces. He was a bit confused because he didn’t entirely see how this fit in with out conversations but was still eager to see what happens. A couple days later, I received a call from him. He was struggling with time on his hand, and called to say he didn’t know what to do with the money since he I had assigned too much research work to complete.

“That’s your call”, I said. “So long as you’re comfortable with what happens next Thursday. The money will actually self-destruct.” I could sense the conflict within him – questioning why this was necessary , but to me this process was as crucial as the research work. In my mind, I was clear – How could we other profess to offer advice on money and wealth without understanding it completely ourselves. The first step for any adviser would be to understand it’s energy and our relationship to it ourselves before flowing it.

And so we met on Thursday the 29th, just before I was boarding a flight to Ahmedabad. He was a bit nervous at never having done something like this. He decided to share his week’s research with me first. Once that was done with, he pulled out a piece of paper on which he had charted out his thinking process.

“Initially, I thought I should give away this money. I recollected that I had visited the Golden Temple in Amritsar a while back. I was most inspired by their process. They’re more efficient than an assembly line in a factory, yet they aren’t motivated by salary or money. That’s a system I’m most fascinated by. I then remembered the work of Baba Amte after watching a film about his life. But as I logged on to his website, I thought to myself – what if I actually put in a part of myself into this. Sure – I could donate some money through my bank account – but what if I thought about what resources they need, and gifted them the materials? So I couriered them a few items that they needed. Economically they’re both the same value – but I sense it will create a different kind of impact which may get counted in a way I cannot fathom right now.”

Nervously, Mihir continued – “I then approached a friend of mine who helps non-profits with social media outreach. What if I empowered her. In a way, I would be creating more value since I’m asking a specialist to do what they’re good at. I also realized that I’ve become an instrument of value creation myself. And so I’ve decided to buy myself a train pass so that I can come to office.”

It was fascinating to observe his thinking process. It was even more important to not judge it as right and wrong. There were several things he hadn’t thought of – but it was important to see him taking these first steps. More than getting into this race of ‘creating value’ or making correct decisions, I saw this as a process of bringing awareness to our relationship with money.

And in this process of bringing magic into wealth , we had started seeing all forms of value being created. The subtle, the tangible, and even the internal transformation that Mihir experienced himself. It left us with some tougher questions – how can money flow to unlock all these different forms of value. And how do we walk the balance between money empowering us as opposed to dampening our spirit?

As I began packing up to leave for my flight – he said that wasn’t all. He still had two things left. He was a bit hesitant, since he wasn’t sure if it fit inside the rules. Very meekly, he started narrating what his plan was. He had two friends – Parin and Damini. Parin was a photographer who did some very creative work with children, and Damini was his college mate who often volunteered with different non-profits.

“I was speaking to both of them, and I thought the best way for me to create value would be to pay forward this experiment to them. What if I tried this 7 day process with them. I would like to see what value they could unlock!”
I had a huge smile on my face. This was something I just hadn’t expected! Ofcourse, I was all on board. In fact, I took the gamble to add some more money to his initiative to make things interesting for Damini and Parin.
And so the experiment continues – in ways we had never imagined. Mihir had decided to the best way to create value with money was to keep this experiment flowing so that more people could bring awareness into it. How that goes and touches more people’s lives we won’t know. But I guess we’ll just have to trust the process.


PS: A few weeks later, we happened to hear from Damini about her experiment. As it turns out, she ended up paying the experiment forward to none other than Drishti, who's been part of these experiments for years! Here are their reflections :)

Posted by Siddharth Sthalekar on Feb 24, 2015 | permalink

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Previous Comments
  • Biswajit Roy wrote ...

    Strange experient with an unfamilier outlook - I am much moved and enlightened in a way.

  • swara wrote ...

    Wah Sid! Interesting design. With theoretical research to flex the brain cells while also creating new mental broadway by such unconventional hands on engagement with money.