‘‘Simple living and high thinking” is a common phrase to describe many great persons of this country. In my childhood this phrase was commonly used for personalities like Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant and many other living at that time. Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri fitted the description aptly and was greatly revered for his simple living. All these people occupied high positions at one time or another. Naturally, they had all the perks and facilities attached to those high positions. And all such perks do not necessarily fall in the category of simplicity, seen from a common sense of the term.
One day in Kanpur in November 1994, I was sitting at the dining table in the company of good friends. The talk began with a discussion on simple food and we were trying to define it. Gradually the discussion shifted to the definition of a ‘Simple Life’. The point of discussion was whether simple life implied deprivation or renunciation of material comforts which one gets in natural course. From this point of view many of the great men known for their simplicity did not lead a simple life. There are many persons who travel all the time by air, stay in comfortable places and eat costly food. Nevertheless it could be unfair to keep them out from the category of simple people on this ground. At the same time, there are many who do not get any of these facilities but still do not fall in the category of simple persons. All this led us to the conclusion that simplicity is something internal and not external. A person looking simple externally may not be so while a person appearing very comfortable may be quite simple within. Thus simplicity is in one way a state of mind.
To elaborate it further, it may be said that an effortless living falls in the category of simplicity. A person who neither rejoices over comforts nor mourns the lack of them is a simple person in true sense. Such a person does not hesitate to give up any article of comfort, when required to do so. Nor does he hanker after such objects, when he is not in a position to have them. If at all he uses certain facilities provided to him by virtue of his position and status, he does so with a detached state of mind. To an ordinary person he may appear to be living in luxury but is in fact above them. He looks upon them as something which helps him to discharge his duties efficiently.
In other words, a simple person is the same within and without. He does not boast about his surroundings nor does he hide anything. His life is very transparent. However, at times he has to use his discretion to decide whether certain facilities are actually required for discharging his duties or they have been added simply to raise his status. If so, such facilities should be done away with before he gets used to them. This is what is missing today. The holders of high office have made their environment luxurious from comfortable. While comfort may be desirable, luxury is certainly not. At times the line between the two is thin and at this point the holder of the office has to use his discrimination with firmness. This not only keeps the sycophants away, it infuses greater confidence and regard in the common people.
Many great people whom we know for their simplicity fell in this category. Unfortunately the number of such people is coming down. Even some of very rich persons like G.D. Birla and J.R.D. Tata fall in the category of simple people. They accumulated no wealth for themselves. They worked for a higher pursuit and creation of wealth was just a natural process for them and they used it for the service of the nation at large. We need many more such persons today in every walk of life.