Thursday, June 24, 2010

THE GRACE UNDER PRESSURE

Some days ago, I watched the latest Mani Ratnam movie – ‘Raavan’. I did not like it at all. However, there is a line in the movie, which I liked immensely.

 Abhishek Bachchan is Beera, a Robin Hood-like hero who has kidnapped the police officer’s beautiful wife ( Aishwarya Rai) to take revenge on him. The police officer mounts an offensive and pursues this Raavan. Beera is a dreaded criminal for the Establishment, but a cult hero for his tribal folks. He is brute, merciless and highly volatile. Yet, he has failed to intimidate his delicate captive. For fourteen days, in spite of all the hardships he has caused, Beera has not been able to intimidate her. That makes him mad… His head spins… ‘Chaka, chaka, chaka, chaka….’. He admires this beautiful, frail woman … her grace under pressure … and vents out his frustration to his brother, “How can you kill some one who is not afraid to die?”

Perhaps, that was the reason why Raavan honored Sita’s modesty. In the movie, Beera has done exactly the same. He could have easily conquered her through his brute force; but he wants to ‘win’ her heart… and, he knows that is not possible with out her ‘will’.

Gandhi tells the masses referring to the British might: “They can  pick us, throw us into the prison, torture us,  even kill us… but they can not take from us our ‘will’ to surrender.”

So, in the end, the British had to give in. Raavan could rob Sita but not her will. Her freedom.

In Life, the tough times try to intimidate us. But, when we refuse to be intimidated – un afraid of death – they leave us alone. Even Raavan, the Lord of our tough times, has heart. Only grit can win that. Even this ten-headed monster is blessed with a single heart, not one more than that. If we stay put, the heads would begin to roll, one by one… Till, the monster realizes the truth: “How can you kill some one who is not afraid to die?”


It was Dr. Robert Schuler, who first made these lines so famous:

“TOUGH TIMES NEVER LAST, BUT THE TOUGH PEOPLE DO!”


GERALD D'CUNHA

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

IS THERE SCOPE?

Sweta comes about as a very confident young girl. Recently her 12th standard results were out and she scored 90%. She got 99 in Biology, her highest and 84 in English, her lowest... Her dream has always been to pursue literature. She is very fond of English language. She reads varieties of books, speaks very fluently, writes creatively. All these things Sweta does without being told…, and she does it for long hours. She is happiest when she is involved in these things. There is no strain, no fatigue and no complaints.

Sweta’s fascination for English language began when she was in fifth standard. Miss. Lynette, a young and pretty English teacher had come to teach the little Sweta’s class. This young teacher had ignited in Sweta the thirst for language… and, from there on, it was only English for Sweta. She would talk about it to her friends… She would dream about writing books, teaching in a reputed college and inspiring her students as her idol, Miss. Lynette did. “Prof. Sweta,” this was how many of her friends, even teachers, called Sweta.

But, now, the results have created a great deal of confusion as well as turmoil in Sweta. Looking at the top Biology marks, her father is keen, almost hell-bent, that his only daughter should pursue Micro Biology. Sweta adores her father and finds it tough to go against his wish. Suddenly, she has begun to doubt her abilities to do well in life if she follows her heart. Marks seem to be the ‘right indicators’, however hard she tries to overlook them and their significance. “Be practical in life, my child… and not sentimental,” her businessman-father tries to prevail upon Sweta. “But, no papa, I would be happiest doing what I deeply love,” Sweta gently protests, “I will be able to give my best, if I choose what I love… and, I will be able to shine, too.”

At Sweta’s age, the confusion is definitely not a strange reality. It is ‘the’ reality. There are millions of Swetas around who constantly battle these inner demons of doubt. Parents, usually, have good intentions… They always want the best for their children. The confusion does not spare even parents, no matter how qualified and successful they are in life. It is tough to go into your child’s heart and feel it, understand it and above all  honor it. The easiest thing is to lead the child going by what the parental heart says, what the Society says… and what the popular trend says. They call it ‘Scope’!


“Is there good scope if I take up this, if I take up that?”

There is great scope for any thing that you take up and put your entire soul into it. If you are passionate enough,  the Nature supports you… That’s Her way! She does not ask you for your marks… She asks for your passion, your dedication, your soul. When you show Her that, she shows you the sky… the vast sky and the billions of stars… and the place you deserve there…

Yes, there is ‘scope’ even though there are billions of them -  billions of ‘stars’ - already there!

Your finger prints, no one else has; nor your voice. God has made you special. If so, He must have thought of your place, too... your destiny in this world. The only thing, perhaps, God has not succeeded in conveying His children well enough is: Do what you love; if you cannot, then, love what you do. That is ‘your’ call… You can take this call any time in your life. In life, there is enough scope for anything and everything as long as it is done with great passion and trust. There is that 'divine ring of protection' for the one who says ‘Yes’ from within!


Sweta, it is okay, if, for some reasons, you may have to take up  Micro Biology. There is great poetry in that too… a great language, a great beauty. You need to just discover it… and, I hope, you would, if Life is precious to you… and if adventure, too!


Scope? Just look up tonight… There is enough place for you there. Enough for another trillion like you and me!

BUT, NOT NOW...

"Sir, I want my daughter to become a fine public speaker. Will your course help her?

"Sir, my son lacks self-confidence. Can you help him to be confident?"

“Sir, I want to improve my English... I want to learn how to speak fluently. Can you help me?"

The sir has this ready answer: "Of course, yes. I can certainly help. But… "

"But, what?"

"But, this." I tell them this little story.

Once, a Parish priest of one of the churches began to receive frequent complaints that many of his parishioners spent a lot of their time and money in the local liquor bar. Disturbed by this development, the priest decided to end this nuisance, once and for all. So, one night, dressed in his civil clothes, the Father stormed the bar. He was shocked to see, that at least twenty of his church members were having a good time there, all drunk.

"Your shameless sinners," the Priest did not waste his time to blast, "Get out of this hell." He thundered again, "Get out, I said. Get out… Right now."


Scared by this bombardment, all the faithful, at once, got out of the shady joint.

"Now, listen to me, you useless fellows," declared the Parish priest, "Those of you who want to go to Heaven, come and form a line on my side."


Instantly, every one of them jumped on to the Father's side and stood there in a line... except one. It was our Johnny. The Father was surprised. "And, you Johnny," he asked,” are you sure, you don't want to go to Heaven?"

Trying to balance himself firmly on the ground, Johnny quickly gave his response, "Of course, Father, I want to. But…"

“But, what?” the Father was impatient to know.


"But, not now!"

For now, our Johnny wants to have a good time on earth. Who wants to go to Heaven now? Let others go, if they want to. Let them die… Johnny doesn’t want to.


Yes, "But, what?" they ask me, too.

I tell them, "But, this: Every body wants to go to Heaven... But, nobody wants to die!"


"Of course, I can help you," I tell my own Johnnys, "but, not unless and until you are willing to get out your shady joints!"





GERALD D'CUNHA

WHEN ONE DOOR SLAMS...

In the Sanjay Bansali movie, ‘Black’, there is this scene. Michelle (Rani Mukerjee), the blind, deaf and dumb student of Debhraj Sahai (Amitabh Bachchan) has just shown some arrogance and disrespect. She has thrown away her books and is stubbornly refusing to repent. Her eccentric teacher doesn’t wait even for a second to beat her blue. She is dragged to the typewriter, and there she is, rage personified. Then, she starts typing the brail… Till then, Michelle couldn’t go beyond even twenty words per minute. Now, angry, mad, hell-bent, she goes about hammering the keyboard and when the watch stops, the teacher is astonished. “Fifty words per minute,” he exclaims as his student has vented out all her anger and sorrow on the keys of her typewriter. She is calmed down; she is ready to listen, repent for her actions. The teacher holds his student and begins to go out, telling her beholding mother, “It is time for celebration; time for an ice cream.” The mother asks with a pleasant confusion, “Ice cream?”

“Yes ma’am, ice cream,” mumbles Debhraj as he fondly escorts his student out, “Life is an ice cream… Enjoy it before it melts.”

Many years ago, when my own students, with full of stars in their eyes, used to come to me with their autograph books on their last day, I would struggle for some nice, catchy lines. One of the lines that I would invariably find there, already, would be this one.


“Life is an ice cream; enjoy it before it melts.”

Did I hear that?

Michelle can not see. But, even before it is going to snow, she is able to sense it… and, when it does, she would rise like a little child and would break into a dance. She cannot see, hear or speak. But, when the singer sings, she can touch the singer’s lips and understand the meaning of those lyrics, feel it and move her self to dance.

This movie is inspired by the life of Helen Keller, who, soon after her birth, had turned blind, deaf and dumb. It was this remarkable lady, that gave hope to millions of less fortunate souls like Michelle. Long before I watched the movie, ‘Black’, I had read a lot on the inspiring life of Helen Keller. During these years, I had come across the famous lines of Mrs. Keller:

“When one door slams, another opens;

But, the sound of the slammed door is so loud,

That, we fail to notice the door that gently opens.”

Life has been always like that. One door slams, and another opens. Never without this rule; never.

Sweaty, my student was only seven. Her younger sister was five and the elder one was fourteen. One rainy day, when the three girls and their mother had been out of station, their father, a simple shop owner, was all alone at his godown. In a freak accident, the entire load of stacked goods came down crushing the man underneath. No body came to know about this and he lay there, dead in the pool of blood, for two days. Life was smooth for the family, until then. Now, the door slammed on them, brutally. What would they do? They were not prepared for this shock. The mother had never been to the shop before and, did not keep well too. The oldest girl in the house was only fourteen. A few weeks went by, and the frail lady decided to take charge. The shop was situated in a male dominated market. But, the lady treaded there picking up the tricks of the trade soon there after. The forteen-years-old girl started helping her mother by sitting in the shop for a few hours when her mother went home for rest. Gradually the hours prolonged… The girl spent more and more time in the shop, completing her graduation along… and enabling her two sisters to complete as well.

Every time I meet this gritty girl, I come out a little more charged, a little more hopeful about life. She has done her graduation in BMS. “I want to be a successful business woman,” she declares. “Soon, I am going to do my MBA, and I have plans to set up a chain of retail stores,” she beams.


The new doors do open… That’s the unwritten rule of Life.


The other day, I had a very tough time dealing with a rough and volatile man. He was simply unpredictable, emotionally volatile and suffered from a deep complex. The interaction was quite an unnerving experience for me. I was frustrated, even scared. But, when I took it as a challenge for my own personal growth, for my own learning and toughening, the entire perspective changed. I softened my approach to this man, held his hand and said sincerely, “I am really sorry, if I have heart you,” and the bully melted… yes, like an ice cream!

Whoever said it, he said it right: “Life is an ice cream; enjoy it before it melts.”



GERALD D’CUNHA

Thursday, June 17, 2010

THE CATTLE CLASS

Today, the SSC results are out in Maharashtra. I have received so many messages from either the students or their parents telling me proudly about the results. None of them has scored below 85%. Today, when some one says he or she has scored 89% 0r 93%, not many eyebrows go up. It is great news… but that news is so common, today.

This post is not inspired by these ‘achievers’, but by a ‘loser’. Just a stone throw away from my classes, this family lives. The young man has scored a Glorious 45%! And, understandably, the young man’s father, a simple office assistant, has gone crazy. “He has shattered my hopes,” the distressed father goes about telling. Their neighbour’s son has scored 92%... and our young man is not even half way this ladder!


“It’s okay; he will surely do well in life,” I consoled the father. “Do well? With 45%?” the look almost scared me to death.

Did I simply do a lip service to this heart-broken man, or did I really mean what I said?

About thirty-five years ago, one evening in Mangalore, I heard that the next day would be our results and I couldn’t wait till the next morning. I walked all the way to my school, reached there in the night, and rang the room bell of my Head Master. “What?” the Father, who was in his casual clothes, asked me. “Results, Father,” I replied. “Come tomorrow morning,” he closed the door.

It was dark, and I had walked such a long distance with such anxiety and hopes… I could not go back without the results. I rang the bell again. “Didn’t you hear what I said?” Father warned me to go. “Please father, just tell me my percentage… I will go,” I pleaded. “Or else what will you do? Sleep here till tomorrow morning? Sleep,” he banged the door, once again.

Ten minutes later, the door opened slightly, and slowly. “You fool, you are still here?” Father came out, held my hand and dragged me inside,  closing the door from behind. “You are so anxious, aren’t you,” he asked me with a sarcastic grin, “Don’t worry; you have not failed.” “How much Father?” I was restless. “47%!”


Well those were different times. May be, that is equal to today’s 59 or 60 percent. But, certainly, even in those years, it was classified as ‘Third Class’… which will always mean the ‘Cattle Class’. Here, in Mumbai, they so gently call it - ‘Pass Class’.


Hey, I am going to be 52 this year… and, I have survived. That is really a great news!

Mine was a different story… The childhood was, if at all any thing, very uneventful. Those days, the bright kids did score 75 to 85 percent. I don’t remember, how much a rank holder scored. But, not like today, for sure. For my illiterate parents, mine was an achievement… as my elder brother had failed in his 10th standard. For them, I was a ‘success’, an ‘achiever’. They celebrated my success and thought that I would do well in life.


“Did I?”

Ignorance may be bliss. My parents did not know the kind of marks other children got those days… So, they did not make a big deal about my 47%. But, this father in Mumbai is a well-informed man. He knows how much every one around his son has got and how much his own son. He, therefore, thinks it is all over for his son.

“Take heart, my friend,” I felt like telling him. “Look at me; I have survived with my 47%.” But, I did not tell him that. In stead, I told him what we regularly tell our Public Speaking students: “Some flowers always bloom late… But, when they do, they leave the finest fragrance.”

“Come on, that’s nice for you to say,” the man wouldn’t buy my pop or pep philosophy. “I don’t think 45% can leave any fragrance, tomorrow,” he mocked.

It was the result day. The shock was still to be absorbed fully… The man was heavily disappointed. In his view, his son stood nowhere in a world of ‘percentages galore’. I felt sad for him, and even sadder for his son. I only prayed in my mind for the son to be one of those ‘later bloomers’, like me. “There is place for us in this vast world, my young friend,” I wished in my mind, “Believe me, even with our ‘Cattle Class’!”


GERALD D'CUNHA

THE FLAG OF THE UNDERDOG

The Football fever has gripped the world. And, I am not spared.

Some days ago, I watched on our Lap Top, the movie of the eighties – ‘Escape To Victory’. I watched it with my son, and both of us really enjoyed it. It has a story set during the Second World War, which is simple yet powerful.

The Germans have never won a single football match against the British, and that is difficult to swallow for them. So, the Army chief wants to humiliate the Allies by trouncing them in a Soccer match. But, that would be a match of un equals as the best of the German players would be pitted against a squad from the Allies POW. And, that makes this movie so inspiring, like our own ‘Lagaan’.


Another reason why I liked this movie is that it has my Soccer hero, Pele… and his famous ‘bicycle-kick goal’. In the movie, the coach who selects Pele is highly impressed by the raw, inborn talent of this ‘Black Pearl’. “Where did you learn all this, young man?” the coach asks Pele. “Back home on the streets of my village in Brazil… where I played with oranges,” tells the Soccer Star. The match is terrific… the Allies, the underdogs, win… the thousands of spectators, go ecstatic at the end of the match… they invade the stadium like the surging waves of a violent sea… and escape to the victory.


It is truly inspiring!

And, now, the Football World Cup matches are on. What has made this particular edition already special is the opening song by K’naan – ‘The Waving Flag’. This young rapper was born in the war-torn and devastated Somalia. I still remember the TV images of hungry, dying children on the streets of this battered nation, where K’naan was born. It is ironical that the billions of fans, as they wave their own flags, are reminded by the flag of another kind. The flag of K’naan:


“When I get older,
I will be stronger,
They will call me freedom,
Like a waving flag.”


It is truly inspiring to think that this underdog freedom song of a poor, starving country was chosen to be the official anthem for this year’s football World Cup. No wonder they say Love and Freedom are two of the greatest universal values…


K’naan sings, the little children play… and we all smile through our tears in our drawing rooms!




GERALD D’CUNHA

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

THE PUPPIES

My friend Giri conducted a Workshop for our young students this morning. He had called it ‘Success Mantras – 2’. Two weeks ago, he had held his first Workshop and called it: ‘Success Mantras -1’.

Giri conveys his message through simple games, which the young participants thoroughly enjoy. A very complex principle can be conveyed through a very simple game, and Giri is a genius in it. Two weeks ago, during his first Workshop, he gave the kids a simple activity of raising a tower with blocks. How simple! But, when the kids actually began to do it, they realized how hard it was. Most of them could not even go beyond five blocks! In the end, Giri revealed his first Success Mantra: Start on a sound foundation. “To achieve success, you need to first focus on the basic principles – the foundation,” he declared, “Else, my little friends, your tower would soon lean, collapse.”

In today’s Workshop, he dealt with another four Success Mantras. The last of the four hit them hard. It was a game of football, played by two participants at one time on a tabletop. The aim was to score the maximum goals. Each one was given three chances at one time and the game of soccer began. The young guns, when tried, focused not only on scoring the maximum goals, they also focused on ‘blocking the efforts’ of their opponents and minimizing their chances of winning. “Whether you like it or not, the moment you come into this world, you enter the world of competition,” Giri reminded the young minds. “It is a fact of life, and early you accept, the better for you.”

The young minds are full of innocence. They compete while playing. But, to comprehend a reality that the life is competitive was a bitter pill for them. Giri told them, “You have to choose the field you would like to work, the level of competition you are able to withstand and go about your life. But, you can not avoid it.”

Outside our classroom, there is a garden. In one corner of this garden, our students, particularly the girls, loved to huddle and watch about half a dozen newborn puppies. “How cute!” This was how all these young kids would exclaim. The puppies would be vibrant, full of life – jumping, playing, falling on each other… it was a delightful sight, the one that would fill you with sheer joy and evoke innocence. But, I had seen a very sad and strange reality about these little puppies, several times over, but had kept it to my self. Today, when our ‘classroom puppies’ felt the bitterness of the pill Giri had served them – and began to question him as to why one should focus on increasing his or her chances of winning/succeeding in life, he told them about the real puppies. “Have you ever watched puppies when their mother comes to them to offer milk?” Giri asked them. Goose pimples ran over my body! “Did he read my mind?” I asked in silence. “These kids have been blissfully watching those ‘cute little things’ all these days… Did he know that? Have these young kids of our class observed the sad and strange reality as I had?”

“Friends, watch this scene, whenever you get a chance,” Giri declared, “The mother would stand there offering her nipples only for some time. The little puppies, however hungry they may be, have to jump to get hold of their mother’s nipples, compete with their own bothers and sisters, pushing and pulling, stamping on each other… and get as much feed as possible with in the allotted time. Then, comes that moment: their mother would suddenly pull herself away from her babies – and off she would go, without even looking back to check which of her babies did not get the chance to suck her nipples, which is still hungry!”

There was a stony silence in our classroom. Perhaps, our puppies had noted this as I had. I am sure, Giri did not know this reality as he unfolded before us the bitter reality of a competitive world. There is only that much time for all of us… Our mother has come to feed us… but, we had better know she would go any moment.

“Some puppies grow up into healthy dogs,” Giri told our puppies, “sadly, some die within days, hungry.” Later, after every one had left, I shared with him my own dilemma. And, I was in for the final ‘mantra’ for the day. “The real tragedy of life is not ‘death’,” Giri quoted a philosopher; “It is what we lose when we are still alive.”

I felt relieved that I had still not lost my innocence. Yes, however competitive life might have been, so far!


GERALD D'CUNHA