Normally I fly economy class, but this time my son surprised me with a gift of a Business Class ticket from Chicago. And the flight was delayed and I went to the bar to get a drink. There were a few passengers sitting around. I asked for a Tonic Water in a tall glass with lots of ice and a lemon peel. The barman was very helpful ‘and some gin?’ I said ‘No, thanks, that’s all ‘. He again asked if I would like to add gin and was not apparently convinced that I had meant it. So, I called him close and in not too-low a voice told him ”I have already had the gin at home and now I want the rest.’ He gave a sigh of relief and winked and gave me the tall glass. Yes, without.
The gentleman in black turtleneck and blue jeans sitting across looked at me and said ‘that was neatly handled. So you don’t drink.’ I said that I always prefer to talk instead. I said, and this is one of my favourite opening gambits, ‘If you don’t mind my saying, you look very familiar…’ trailing my voice to a to-be-filled in void. He said ‘I am Steve’. ‘Not Steve Jobs… not THE Steve Jobs’. ‘Are you not surprised to see me here?’ ‘You bet, I am. But then among myriads of qualities, you made triumphal returns from beyond. You even beat your 17-page obituary and said that the news of your death was highly exaggerated. I am sure some even could have rushed to attend a funeral.’ ‘That would have been most illuminating as I could myself hear what friends and admirers would actually say.’ I said ‘Mr. Jobs, I am surprised not so much by the fact that this time around you might be taking a bite at the original apple in the yonder Gardens, but you are in this lounge for the semi-poors rather than in the super First Class one’. ‘Well, since that one is a fairly lonely place, I thought why not go some place and meet some normal people and do or say something less stressful.’
‘I understand you told your official biographer to get the book out quickly so that your children could know and understand you better. But you think people with whom you spent years and years know you well! Steve Jobs the soul in or behind the man, has not exactly emerged unscathed, as you know. If I may, I like to apply your very own words to dissect you — design is not just what it looks like, Design is how it works. And Mr. Jobs, how you work(ed) that needs to be told and that’s what should define you.’ ‘That precisely is my regret now. But what do you want to tell me? I have done as much as I possibly could and then beyond.’ ‘Absolutely, no doubt and we all believe you passed away so much before the fullness of your time and achievements.”
‘Lots would be written on you and about you and I am not going there. I have a few queries and comments, wee bit unusual though. I am curious to know what does the bite-marked apple means as a logo. Your company’s first ever logo had an interesting design showing a tree with an apple falling down on Newton’s head — was it to imply that the Apple you were creating will hit the people to discover, invent, build, manufacture, and so on ?’ ‘Perhaps, the thinking was along those lines, but later we just went on to a simpler logo, colourful though, with an apple with rainbow wraps around. Now, of course, it is in the simplest of designs — all white apple. Looks elegant and impressive, doesn’t it?’ ‘Well, yes, but did you try to have a go at actually creating an organic apple in pure white hue?’ ‘That’s indeed a great suggestion and why not, if not us in Apple, someone in the organic industry designing real fruits could be commissioned. And my dear fellow, that would be an enormous publicity — with an i-Tune on ‘ Apple to Apple.” And Steve smiled with that enigmatic, practical frown on his somewhat expansive forehead and added ‘You better get this idea copywrighted, before I steal it for a song’.
‘Actually the bitten apple to me seems to be symbolic of Adam’s take on the forbidden apple that opened the door of knowledge and the whole concept of his fall or banishment from heaven is to come away from the pointless pleasures to the painful journey for the acquisition of knowledge that over the centuries get refined and honed into wisdom. And to do what with the ever growing knowledge and creative technology remains still the unknown quest. Your contribution has been to facilitate the use of all sources of knowledge with speed, accuracy, coverage, and some powers of prediction, for us all to march towards the light. You and your peers have brought the gift of time and tools to undertake that journey. Like Prometheus stealing the fire, the invention of wheels, and all the discoveries and inventions blazing the trail of progress of mankind , the computer, internet and all related electronic communications technology is now the master key for all our thinking, doing and achievement.’
‘But Mr. Jobs, in the interim, people all over the world are getting enmeshed in the net of gadget-driven life, almost round the clock and almost circling life itself. Personal communication, art and the warmth of human conversation, physical and emotional bonding, empathy, values, and finer feelings are fading away fast. Would your gadgets finally make us the islands in a vast, cold cyber/electronic space? And is that the destiny writ across the journey we have embarked now on?’
‘These are weighty matters for the neo-philosophy that is emerging, to consider. Throughout our history there has been a lag between culture and civilisation, between the traditionalists and the modernists, between religion and social precepts and science and technology. There have been serious conflicts, but common grounds have emerged and we continue to walk into the known unknowns, and perhaps time has come for us to delve into the unknown unknowns.’
‘Mr. Jobs, people have always had to pay and there comes the ethical and moral dilemma as to why should some, and not others, become the victims of a value subtracted living. One is referring to the inevitable, already decipherable trend of a massive electronically –induced maladies and pandemonium. There is a reported reluctance of yours for humanitarian work. Your life has been sadly shortened by the pancreatic cancer you had suffered for years. There can hardly be any argument for enterprises that flourish on people’s patronage, of course for services rendered in various ways and manners, to deny a small proportion of their wealth to be set apart for public benefit. You had stopped the corporate gestures of philanthropic nature. It is not yet clear whether you have done the same in case of your private fortune, well-earned no doubt, but are you certain that it is being well-spent? And that you are at peace with yourself, wherever you are now.’
‘Come on, give me a break, you seem to be an understanding sort of guy. The only rational reason for my putting a brake on corporate munificence was to allow us in the company to expand the capital base and push the e-frontier as far as we possibly could in my lifetime. And we created opportunities and you must agree, lots of jobs beside myself.’ ‘That’s pretty neat, but as an economist I would debate this somewhat dubious concept of capital base expansion as a defence. First, I believe all philanthropic contributions are tax-deductible and secondly, no one suggests that Apple go all charity. I would let that go, but Mr. Jobs, people out there would judge you as a human being where the scale is to be weighed in not so much for the creation of wealth, but for sharing the prosperity, not for giving jobs to some, but for giving succour to many around the planet. You knew, I am sorry to drive this in somewhat cruelly, where the puck was going to be from the time you were told about the cancer. It would not be perhaps a presumption only that supporting that sort of cause would come your way.’
‘Phew! That’s quite an indictment. You are some kind of lawyer or what?’
‘I wish I were , but this is about you Mr. Jobs and this brings me to the fascinating time in your early life at Portland, Oregon where you were surviving, so to speak, on the free meals at the Hare Krishna Temple. Your visit to India brought you close to Buddhism. Apart from a shaven head, you had a Zen Buddhist monk preside over your wedding ceremonies. Let me quote your own words, almost in a Buddhist strain, “Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me. Going to bed at night saying we have done something wonderful, that’s what matters to me.” And so true for each and all of us, but you have the real opportunity to do the ‘wonderful’ things that other mortals die dreaming to do. And that’s beyond the creativity, the enterprise, the leadership and such like that you have had in such an abundant measure. I am emboldened to hint at compassion, empathy and helping hand to change the lives of millions for the better and for ever. That’s a legacy and gift that could, and should, take you to the astral heights.’
‘You are right, I knew where the puck would be, but I forgot that the buck also stops there. Well, I did return in 1996 and I did survive the Bloomberg obituary notice, so don’t be shocked when again you have a Jobs surprise. And would you please call me Steve?’
In a lighter vein Steve said ‘Before you go or I do, in my case it has already happened. I like to know what do you actually do. You look kind’a holy man. But you sure talk like one not so holy!’ I laughed and liked the man whom I have admired so much. ‘Steve, I have been called worse names and I would tell you what I used to do next time we meet. But this is about you, so let me just tell you that your Mark Twain quote on your obituary was spot on. But I would have advised you on a more appropriate rejoinder a’ la Rudyard Kipling, who surprisingly had used a word a hundred or so years ago that now is one of the key and oft-used computer terms. Kipling’s obituary had appeared in the very magazine he used to write for and he wrote to them “I have just read that I am dead. Don’t forget to delete me from your list of subscribers.”
Steve Jobs’ name can never be deleted, as his would always be recharged every time the Apple takes a bite.
We got up, shook hands and left the lounge.
Syed Muhammad Hussain — ambassador (rtd.) writes on socio-economic and other contemporary issues. .