Rich man, poor man

Do you have the one wealth that really matters?

man turned out his pockets / rich poor concept

In school, Rishi was by far, the ‘richest’ among all of us. And because he was my friend, I had the privilege to spend time with him in his fancy house, which was equipped with all the latest gadgets. He even had a colour TV with a remote in the days when a black & white TV set too was a luxury. As the years went by, we lost touch.

Then a few years ago, at a mini school re-union, I learned that Rishi had passed away. What was most disheartening was that in his last few years, he was forced to live on the streets, completely broke, living on charity of his erstwhile neighbours and acquaintances.

This news disconcerted me and I started doing some digging into his life when I found an old article about him in a prominent Mumbai newspaper. It reported that Rishi’s father had died leaving him clueless about the business. Rishi was left with only his father’s debt and a crushed spirit.

Being broke is temporary

As I ponder the life and death of my dear friend, I wonder what could’ve prevented the disastrous turn of events in his life.

Perhaps the answer can be found in Michael Todd’s powerful words: “I've never been poor, only broke. Being broke is temporary. Being poor is a state of mind.” An American theatre and film producer, and erstwhile husband of Elizabeth Taylor, Michael’s business career was volatile, and his failed ventures left him bankrupt several times. However, that didn’t stop him from continuing to try.

Life is unpredictable. Even the most competent among us can face an unexpected crisis—financial turmoil, sudden loss of job or a health emergency—anything. Whether we recover from it depends on our having the one wealth that really matters: spirit. Without spirit, even the greatest talent is useless.

Let me explain this in terms of money. Most people who are born poor think of poverty as a curse. They often equate poverty with lack of money. But poverty is never about money. There are scores of examples of people who, although born in ‘poor’ circumstances, have risen to create unimaginable wealth.

Real wealth

Ask any wealthy man what his real wealth is and it’s a good bet that he will point to something other than his bank balance or financial assets. When Dhirubhai Ambani was asked what he attributed his success to, he thumped his chest and said “Courage”. Courage is really a form of spirit. Spirit can take any form—passion, enthusiasm, determination, faith, creativity.

When a rich man loses his spirit he loses everything—even his money. And when a poor man’s spirit is ignited, nothing can keep him from getting rich.

There’s only one kind of poverty then—the poverty of spirit. When we become de-spirited, we become poor. Conversely, when our spirits are intact, our wealth can never leave us, even when we’re broke.


A version of this article first appeared in the June 2012 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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