UNDERSTANDING EXCELLENCE – PART V (ELOCUTION AND VISION)

I was a ninth standard student that time. It was my first year in a Thane school, the city where we had moved in recently. I was picked up soon as a member of our team that was going to represent our school in a prestigious debating competition at Pune. We had four months of presentations ahead of us. Before that, for any such competition I had prepared my speech in a week’s time. Hence, four months looked a very long time. My friend and I were introduced to a teacher who had also joined the school recently. His name was Murlidhar Gode. On the top of all his handwritten letters, he used to write “स्वयमेव मृगेन्द्रता”, part of a Sanskrit verse that focuses on finding the real strength within self.

‘Gode Sir’ as we started calling him was quite sweet to talk to, as the literal translation of his surname meant. He unfolded his plan before us. There were five topics for the debating competition and we had to prepare for one of them. But that was only the first round of the competition. In another round participants would get a topic at the venue, ten minutes in advance and then they would have to give a five minutes speech on that topic. That was tough. But sir had a plan. He started giving us a topic every day. He would start the timer. After ten minutes, we had to deliver the speech. After our performance, he used to discuss the content and style with us. The same evening, we had to write down the text of the speech, which was then read by him. Again then he commented on it. Every week we started preparing four topics. In two months, both of us had prepared more than thirty speeches. We discovered a vital aspect of ourselves; we could really do it.

Gode sir accelerated the speed. We were preparing a topic every day. He was consciously increasing the complexity of topics. In our first week, we had topics such as a ‘picnic to the seashore’ or ‘visit to the market’. Slowly we ‘graduated’ to, ‘The meaning of independence’ or ‘messages from the life of Vivekanand’ or ‘merits and demerits of democracy’. And by Jove, I was enjoying the process!

Now phase II started as per sir’s plan. Whenever in the school, if any class had a free period, sir, would take us there, give a topic, then within minutes in front of the class, and F..I..R..E!  We used to deliver the speech. Generally the students were appreciative, but sir was a difficult person to please. He used to discuss threadbare our performances with a reassuring smile on his face. Then came the next phase. Sir started getting together, three or four classes at, a time. We had to first deliver our prepared speech for debate and then the ‘Instant topic’.

In four months, he made us prepare NINTY such topics. Looking back, I am indebted to him for helping me develop a ‘Thinking pattern’ of preparing contents and their presentation. Now no topics seemed impossible. To this date, this pattern helps me to organize my thoughts. Many people tell me today that my communication style is friendly, spontaneous and filled with a persuasive energy. The credit for all such compliments rests squarely on Gode-sir only.

Once after a addressed all divisions of the Tenth class during this period, Gode-sir took me aside, “While relating to the audience you need to maintain constant eye contact with ‘a’ section of the audience all the time… you need to shift your eyes in a rhythmic manner… sometimes circular, sometimes in straight lines… The lines could be vertical, horizontal … make it wavelike sometimes… But your eyes must meet their eyes all the time”

“Sir… Why”?…

“Because then, many… almost all members of audience feel, you are directly talking to them. It increases their concentration and attentiveness…” Gode sir continued.

“But doing THIS and talking at the same time?…” my question.

“Yes… Consider your eyes as an extension of your breathing. You breathe ALL the time, isn’t it” Sir said with his characteristic sweet smile.

I started applying the ‘technique’ and started getting results. All the divisions of ninth class that day were sitting in two columns. On my left were boys and on my right were girls. Now ‘Ninth’ was my class. Therefore, the girls were ‘special’ for me, as they are for any teenager. All the same, in our times, one rarely looked at girls ‘officially’. So, all throughout my speech I used sir’s technique on my left, not looking (or not daring to look) at the right side.

After I ended my speech, all my classmates clapped with great enthusiasm. Even the girls clapped. Even the ones that mattered for me clapped. Even THAT girl clapped. So I was overjoyed.

“During the delivery of your speech, why did you block half the audience?” sir asked (with that same smile).

Oh God… He had noticed even that; I thought. If he notices my ‘not looking’ at girls, he must be noticing my ‘looking’ as well. That was more frightening.

Fortunately, sir was on a different tangent that day. “Look boy… Audience is one … It has many faces… It has one face… And it has no face. You have to look at all three levels”.  I could not understand; especially how to look at no face.

“When you are looking at the audience, the way I have told you… you are looking at many faces. Then you focus on their eyes… As you go on, their eyes should give you similar emotions… and at that point, it becomes one face. Go on and on. At one Point, you will perceive no face but just a collective existence, right there in front of you. You will discover it not when you will speak but when you will pause…” Sir was explaining and a powerful insight was unfolding within my mind. That was the first time in my life, when a Guru, taught ‘meaning of meditation’ to his disciple.                                                                          …Thank you Gode Sir for providing me Vision.

Dr. Anand Nadkarni.

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UNDERSTANDING EXCELLENCE – PART IV (THE FATHER FIGURE)

I want to share with you today, a recent experience of mine. Actually it is a very common experience for me, yet it is very inspiring every time… No, I am not going to tell you about my grateful patients and their relatives, or someone who has read and immensely liked my books!

I am going to tell you, how I meet my father many times even though he is no more with me for the last seventeen years. Seventeen years after his death, I see him, meet him, talk to him…

You will be wondering how!

My father was a teacher. He taught organic chemistry to college students for forty years. He rose to a level of head of an institute from a job of a laboratory assistant. During his long tenure he worked in Khandesh – Jalgaon (North Maharashtra), Marathwada –Ambejogai (South-central Maharashtra) and finally Thane city. He had started his career in Kolhapur (Southern tip of Maharashtra).

I have seen a trend whenever he has worked. He had an inherent power to influence people by his sheer simplicity and humility. He mentored literally thousands of students and hundreds of colleagues. And I see his greatness even bigger today after seventeen years, because he still continues to mentor…

Coming to the recent experience… one of his former colleagues who himself has retired as head of an institute had come to see me. “From an angle you have started looking so much like my sir…” and there were tears in his eyes. “Your father is my God…” He said in English and I marked the expression ‘father is’ pointing at the way I put my wrist-watch he remarked, “That is exactly the way, sir used to wear his wrist watch…” He has a minute sense of observation, I said to myself; true I wear it that way because I have picked it up from him as any adoring son would pick up things from his father.

Some years back I went to Jalgaon for a series of public programs, when an old student of my father met and showed me a very old photograph of my father with Dr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan. Dr. Radhakrishnan, when he was vice-president of India, had visited Jalgaon in the fifties. I had seen this photograph displayed by my father near his table. This student of his had carefully preserved the copy. I got it home, got it scanned and made neat prints of it. I then gave the prints to the same senior students, my brother and sister on 5th September last. “Two Teachers… should be the title of this Photograph… or shall we say TRUE teachers” my elder brother remarked, holding the print in his hand.

For all his teaching life, my father never went for taking ‘tuitions’ outside the college. He taught many at home but never charged. That was not in his ethical frame. I remember as a child, my mother sometimes used to murmur how my father could have made a lot of money if he would have gone into private tuitions.

In the year 1980, my father retired from active service. The culture of ‘coaching classes’ had just started spreading across the cities. The Agarwals had arrived and Chates were yet to emerge. One colleague of my father had started one of the first coaching classes in Thane city, where we lived. He requested my father now retired to join him to teach chemistry. “Now you are no more in service … If you teach with me and receive honorarium for it, what is the problem…  Actually I want to develop my classes as true educational institute under your guidance … please, sir… please.” His relentless persuasion, must have had an impact and my father started teaching there.

Some months passed and one day while I came down from hospital on a weekend (I was doing my residency in psychiatry at KEM Hospital, Mumbai) my father told me that he had stopped teaching at the coaching classes.

“Why? Suddenly?”  I asked.

“Because I realized my mistake…” He said in his usual measured, soft tone. “I cannot look at teaching as an activity that is measured hourly by money…                                                                                                            … I think I made mistake in taking the assignment. Somehow, I am not getting the same feeling of “giving” and “getting” in the coaching classes… perhaps it is only my conditioning that is causing the conflict. But I have decided not to fight with that conditioning at this age… And when you realize your mistake, you need to take prompt corrective action otherwise you are endorsing the mistake… and then you lose the right to call it a mistake.”

I was listening keenly. I was surprised because he rarely made errors in his judgment. But I was amazed the way he was owning up his mistake. Not many fathers would have shared this with their sons. All along his life he was equally objective about his achievements and errors.

“Now what is your plan…”, I asked.

“Let us see…” He said. This meant that he already had a plan B going on in his mind. One had to wait and watch.

I was right. Within a month, he along with a then principal of school, Mr. Tilak and others started working on starting a training centre for National Talent Search Examination. Our city had no such centre at that time. He got what he wanted. His zeal was back and with it, his management skills. He was happy to teach even school going students. He had a mission and the mission was EDUCATIONAL. I saw him bouncing back to his ‘normal’ energy levels. Since ‘money’ was not at all                                                               an issue here, he was happy. Some years down the line he helped set up that centre and used to share his experiences with me with a measured excitement.

I was both relieved to see him that way and was hugely impressed the way he dealt with his ‘mistake’ in a precise manner, taking responsibility for it, not blaming anyone and finding his comfort level once again.

Since then, I think he taught me to make my own choice between material goals and emotional goals. For him his emotional gains were more important than economic ones. By sharing his error he made me cautions. By showing his rectification he made me understands how to make, accept and live up to the choices that you make in life. That I think is the biggest asset of a mentor. The fearless analysis of one’s choices, owning up responsibility of all your decisions and seeking alternatives to restore your own balance.

Many years down the line, when I met one of his old students who started wearing khadi because of my father wearing khadi, I know why he is doing so… when I meet an old student narrating a story of how my father faced an angry mob once in the college campus I know why he is so influenced after so many years… when eyes of so many of his students spread all over the globe become moist at mere reference of his memories, I know why it happens that way.

That is how I meet him many times and that is how he lives within all of us.

Dr. Anand Nadkarni

UNDERSTANDING EXCELLENCE – PART III (THE MAGIC OF EMPATHY AND MENTORING)

Our seventh standard class in that prestigious school was on the ground floor of the school building in a corner. The students however were extremely prominent by their qualities. Our class consisted of the first 50 students out of around 450 to 500 students of that standard. Therefore, to get entry in this class and then ‘Keep up’ one’s place year-after-year was considered as an accomplishment. In the eyes of students of other division this class lacked ‘daring’ and was utterly ‘Ghasu’ types, just believing in studies and devoid of ‘guts’; as was the popular phrase of our times.

For the sake of this story, I have to mention that I was a sufferer of polio in my childhood and had to wear mental and leather supports termed ‘calipers’ on both my legs. I was quite mobile although not physically active. Once our history teacher called me to write something on the board.  I went enthusiastically to discover that on the uneven wooden platform it was difficult for me to balance myself and write with speed. I was struggling with the task when I heard my teacher calling me half-mockingly “LANGADYA”… which meant a ‘lame person’. I could not write further. The whole class was stunned. The teacher also realized that she had made an odd remark. She allowed me to go back to my seat. No one in the class said anything till the period was over.

As soon as the bell rang the teacher went out. I was still in a state of shock when someone put comforting arms around me. I saw up; and saw my entire class ready to leave the room.  With an instantaneous understanding all 49 boys and girls of my class had decided to boycott the class. All of us stood in the passage. Teacher of the next class came. Students told her that they would not enter the class unless the teacher apologizes. This teacher tried to pacify but everyone was firm. The teacher went to inform the principal. By that time, by an unseen mechanism the news has spread to other classes and students had started peeping at us from their rooms, windows and doors.

The principal came down and told the class to first get inside the room. The class politely yet firmly refused. The principle called all of us to his office. We were made to stand outside and the teacher was called. The principle discussed the case and came out and asked us to send in a ‘delegation’. This was promptly done. The teacher was ready to offer a ‘private’ apology to the student, the principal   said. “That is not fair” the delegation said, “the insult was done in front of the entire class, the apology must be tendered in front of the whole class”. The delegation stood firm.

By this time, teaching and learning activity in the rest of the school had reached a point of commotion. Everyone wanted to know, what was happening. In the principal’s room we were listening to that din that was escalating. “OK” said the principal, “that will be done…”

“Now …” said the delegation.

All others were called inside. The room was packed. The teacher said, “Sorry”. The delegation told clearly to the principle that they were accepting the apology but they had not liked the tone in which it was offered.

No one spoke further. All of us came out. That evening our class was treated by other students as ‘Heroes’. Our class had shown ‘guts’ in the year 1969 when concepts of discipline were harsher than today.

All throughout this incident, I did not (have to) speak a single word although the whole episode triggered because of my reference. But even today I remember all my emotions very vividly. The intense hurt that I experienced with the term ‘LANGADYA’ is there still with me after 38 years. But more prominent is the protective comfort that my entire class gave me after that. Within seconds they had put themselves in my sufferings and they had seen an alternative too. And they were firm enough to execute that alternative. From that point till today the magic of that empathy has never left me. The confidence that my class gave me that day is still with me.

Looking back, what a way to empathize! …  It has helped me to forgive that behavior of that teacher and today I do not clearly remember her face.  But faces of all my classmates are crystal-clear in front of me after 38 years. Do you ever forget your mentors?

Never.

Dr. Anand Nadkarni

UNDERSTANDING EXCELLENCE – PART II

We have a prayer for teachers of Shikshak Prabodhini (SP). It is a Marathi and Hindi adaptation of an English Prayer.

The English prayer is:

God Grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change.

Give me courage

To change the things that I can

And wisdom

To know the difference.

The Marathi version is:

जे टाळणे अशक्य, दे शक्ती ते सहाया |

जे अशक्यसाध्य आहे, निर्धार हे कराया ||

मज काय शक्य आहे, आहे अशक्य काय ||

माझे मला कळाया, दे बुद्धी देवराया ||

In Front of the selected students of Shikshak Prabodhini I started my interactive session. “Let us start with our prayer…” I said and one of my teachers wrote it in neat handwriting on the board.

“We need to understand the prayer before we sign it …” I said and read aloud the text. I had not planned to speak on the prayer. But during communication if I get a chance to introduce any new learning, I should not let it go a begging … so, I decided to continue. We started discussing the meaning of the poem. The students were coming out with interesting and valid remarks. How often we adults try to ‘teach’ the meaning rather than letting them ‘discover’.

“Can we point out key words in each line”, I gave direction to the proceedings. In line one, students marked ‘सहाया’ translated literally as ‘Tolerating’. Then through discussion it was pointed that the meaning was ‘accepting’. The emotional difference between these two terms was exactly described by students (all adult readers, please note).

In the second line, ‘निर्धार’ was the chosen word. “Which other word could have fitted here?’’ I asked. ‘निश्चय’ came the answer. We compared the two words and found ‘निर्धार’ had an edge over ‘निश्चय’. The word ‘धार’ means ‘sharp edge’ in Marathi … Wow, how wonderful… This had not occurred to me before.

In the third line, ‘शक्य-अशक्य’ were key-words, we discussed about how factors can be classified as within control and beyond control. We took example of a school examination and listed factors within and beyond control. We decided that this differentiation was very important and then it could help us to focus on factors within control.

In the fourth line, after deliberations, ‘माझे मला’ were chosen as key words. There was an interesting discussion on low ‘my realization’ is a key as against ‘others making one realize’.

“We need to sing the prayer uttering every word with its content echoing in our mind. Otherwise, the prayer looses its power”. I took example of the Sanskrit prayer, praising Goddess Saraswati and how the last words of the prayer ‘नि:शेष जाड्या पहा’ were misinterpreted by students. Everyone laughed. The word ‘जाड्या’ can be pronounced in different manners. If pronounced in Marathi phonetics it means a ‘fat person’ and if pronounced with Sanskrit phonetic flavor it means, ‘inertia of the intellect’. The prayer seeks blessings of the Goddess of knowledge to end ‘inertia of the intellect’.

“What should be our psychological disposition while praying?” I asked

“Calm…”

“Focused…”

“With humility…”

Pat came answers. Then I sang the Prayers, line by line. They followed.

After we completed the singing, I asked them, “What are the times when you will sing this prayer…”

A Flurry of responses followed… they were interesting

“Every morning…”

“Before going to sleep…”

“Before exam…”

“Before competition…”

I gathered all responses. And then came one.

“When I want to be with myself…”

The children will never let you down, if you believe in them. Had I hurriedly gone ahead, I would have missed this golden response. Look, just look at it…

I pray when I want to be with myself.

I have narrated this entire incident because in my opinion, there are messages galore for us in this… when we at times talk of the young generation with disdain and frustration, we adults, teachers and parents forget that we have not practiced the art and science of guiding, navigating the young ones through an experience.

Singing a prayer is an everyday experience. If we can guide and navigate them through the intricacies of this experience, we are creating learning’s from it… That is the essence of a ‘mentoring communication’. It helps the student discover, unobstructively, wonderful meanings behind an experience… It does not rob from the student the joy and thrill of exploring an experience but adds to it… As a communicator, I can share with you that those 30 minutes were as much an experience of joy and excitement for me as it was for them.

I may have the ability to give a ‘full’ discourse on the meaning of the prayer. But as a mentor my abilities are not for ‘flaunting’. My abilities need to be dormant enough to let the students explore and visible enough to give them the direction that I want … this is a secret of mentoring communication.

In fact, throughout the communication I am practicing ‘empathy’. I am putting myself in their shoes (This shoe has a sole-soul of thinking and laces of emotions) and coming out, then again going out, to come out… This journey gives my communication the sense of ‘Timing’. It starts and ends on exact notes. In a way, I am carefully constructing the communication so it reaches a climax as I expected and still it has that lovely element of creative uncertainly… The whole experience at the end of it divinely refreshing… for them and for me.

Dr Anand Nadkarni

Understanding Excellence – Part I

I was facilitating an interactive session with school going students under the banner of ‘Shikshak Prabhodhini’ – a project where teachers are being trained to mentor exceptional students. We were discussing ‘emotions’.  A young girl of eighth standard, an aspiring singer, was discussing with me her emotions before a performance, in front of about 80 other students. We talked about the ‘Result’ and the ‘Process’. The ‘result’ was the end of the performance when the audience would clap and appreciate. The ‘Process’ was the actual performance that would lead to this result. We concluded that before starting the actual performance we need to make the ‘result’ ‘out of focus’ that is blurred and bring the actual performance in sharp focus … by sharp focus we meant, we will now focus on every minute of the performance… minute by minute.

The girl visualized aloud the exact moment of starting the performance. She described it as if in a trance, I was helping her to shape her responses … Here she was, as steady as a rock … breathing rhythmically..  Image   of her guru in front of her eyes … and the only overriding thought, I am going to do my best…

“   And who are you? …  what are you? …  at this moment? …”

“I am music …” pat came the reply

“A moment of excellence is born” I said.

It was a very strong experience emotionally for all of us present. A rare, delightful insight into an experience called ‘excellence’ … It was exhilarating in an enlightened manner.

At times, the experiential truth  is so strong that is difficult to catch it in words, however, if one has to consolidate the emotional insight into a  blinding design of wisdom, one has to fall back on words again.

So what is excellence?

I do not think excellence has one single definition. In the future segments of this communication, I will explore different   ways by which this theme can be understood. Here is the first one.

Let us take for example, a popular skill amongst students such as   ‘orator’s skill’.  Translated in school-reality, it means participating and winning elocution and debating competitions.

A student that is generally chosen by teachers for developing this skill is an expressive and communicative one who also has a ‘pleasant’ and ‘smart ‘disposition’.

Suppose there is   an elocution competition and five topics are given, out of which she has to select one. The mentor here will ask her to think and talk about each one of the topics  …  what are the thoughts that come to her mind when she reads topics such as , ‘Protecting My Earth’ or ‘The Life and Times of  Shivaji Maharaj’ .  She is encouraged to explore each topic; in her own way. She has to just go on talking about each topic. The mentor listens keenly.

“Can you now make a choice?” the mentor puts the question unconstructively.  She needs to give her own explanation why she is deciding to opt for a particular topic. If she is confused, the mentor helps her to explore her confusion (please note, not to clear it).

When she makes a choice she has to give justification for it. Having heard that; the mentor poses certain relevant queries regarding her choice. What   is the most important aspect of the topic that she has liked? What according to her is the part of the topic that she may find difficult? If she has ‘liked’ two topics what is one consideration that will help her to choose the one that she has chosen?

At the end, the mentor and student will decide a time interval where the student has to think of all the points raised and come back with a decision.

“But sir, I have already made up my mind” suppose the student says.

“Yes, I appreciate … I want you now to tell me one by one why and how you discarded the other topics. I am interested in knowing how you did it…”

“How I did it? I just did it” student.

“Let us explore, how you could have done it… I am taking a paper and writing all topics. I want you to write all the thoughts that came to your mind … that could help …”

The mentor helps the student to identify consciously the thinking process that went behind her decision.

The topic is now selected.

The mentor now motivates the student to gather information on the topic. The mentor shares the spirit of enquiry, exploration and excitement.

Having adequate ‘database’ the mentor helps the student to evolve the structure of presentation. The structure is not imposed. Any deviation from standard procedure of delivering a speech, is respected and discussed. The mundane use of quotations, use of lofty words, adult and literary phrases is questioned. The originality of expression is encouraged.

A draft is now ready.

The mentor and the student now discuss the style of presentation. The mentor does not impose his or any other’s style on the student.   They make a list of ‘impressive orators’ that they have observed   in media as well as in public life. The student makes note of the qualities that she would like to imbibe from each one of them.

The written draft is taken as a guideline rather than a script.

While rehearsing   the speech, placement of all phrases and points is discussed. The contents are rearranged, realigned and the impact is noted.

Then the student is given different scenarios and told to present the speech

  • Student is the first speaker
  • Last speaker
  • All the points covered by the previous speaker
  • Distracted audience
  • Tired judges
  • Interruption because of electricity / technical faults.

Each performance is discussed.

Then the ‘emotions’ during preparation and rehearsal are discussed. Boredom, anxiety, satisfaction…Each emotion is named and each emotion is acknowledged. The emotions that will help the performance are identified. How can the student continue to generate these helpful emotions? … different strategies are planned by which this can be done.

The issue of ‘ownership’ of performance is now discussed. This ‘ownership’ can be burdening or enjoyable, the way you look at it.

On the day of the performance, the mentor and the student spend a short ‘exclusive time’ together.

After the performance the mentor and the student discuss pros and cons of her own performance. Rather than saying “your delivery was too fast”, it is put as “These were the sentences where your speed was fast” Rather than saying “you need to work on your eye-to-eye contact” it is put as, “you need to cover periodically all corners of the audience by your eyes”.

After the performance is discussed, both mentor and student sincerely sit through some other contestants’ speeches and discuss those. Slowly they evolve a detailed format of performance appraisal which is kept as a record by the student.

After the result of the competition, the mentor explores resultant emotions with the student. They decide on their next goal.

As the time progresses, the student starts becoming more responsible and empowered and the mentor maintains a meaningful presence throughout this journey.

The student now grows confident and starts exploring the experience further. The mentor now focuses on ‘involvement’, ‘commitment’, ‘process satisfaction’ and ‘result satisfaction’ which are psychologically more sophisticated terms. The discussion revolves around, what is the ‘self- talk’ at such times and how different types of self-talk can be either helpful or harmful; how the student can exercise her choice to choose the most helpful self-talk.

As the string of performances continues and each is utilized as a ‘learning’ experience, there will come an experience the mentor is watching for… a memorable moment when the student and the speech being delivered becomes so synchronized that it becomes ONE. The student is at her best at that moment.

This moment is again shared and explored by both. It is a magical moment. A touch of brilliance.             Now, the mentor and the student keep on working further to make this moment appear often as well as how they can make it ‘better’. Here better, means more meaningful, more memorable, more intense…

And slowly, the moments of excellence start trickling… then flowing… Naturally … In a rhythm. The student has discovered her own way of expression.

The mentor watches with his ever-watchful eyes her track-record of glories with moist eyes, with all the memories gathering one by one in his mind… “There was a day when I helped her to make her choice” he says in his mind and smiles.

Dr Anand Nadkarni