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

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