My Father…my teacher…zindagi ke saath bhi zindagi ke baad bhi

To all of us emotional fools, a Father is a “shraddha sthana” a tower of trust and faith, a beacon as we grow up. Some of us never outgrow that stage and continue to be guided by the philosophy and learning of that towering personality. I have no hesitation to say I am one of those who continue to “look up” to my father, even so many years after his death!!

The lessons my father taught me were universal in their application and so am sharing three of these with you. Not that he was a great academic or a very learned man. He was born in a small village in Konkan and educated initially in a typical village school in vernacular medium. For college education, he first came to Mumbai and as soon as he completed his B. Com. degree, to support a large family (he being the eldest son in a Hindu family)he joined life insurance industry as an agent. That he retired as an Executive Director of LIC ( so now you understand the Zindagi ke saath… reference in the title) was a testimony to his rugged, native intelligence and his street smart & go getting nature. Though his four children got “gyan” from him in abundance, I want to share with you just 3 of his teachings which have stood by me in my life’s journey, and guided me through many a difficult situation.

First learning point: Many times in life we are faced with multiple choices and alternate routes. We analyse and agonize. We are unsure which path to take. And we spend hours and days in a flux, a confused state of mind; continuously wondering “mai idhar javun ya udhar javun”. And even when we have chosen one path, we keep wondering and questioning whether our choice was a right one, and whether we would have been better off on the road not chosen. Baba (that was what we 4 siblings called him) had a simple advice : “murder the alternative”. Think, analyse, debate, all you want before making a choice. Whatever choice you make (regardless of “right” or “wrong”) murder the alternative as you move along. Do not think, question, wonder whether the choice was right. Having chosen, murder the alternative and move on that decision with full focus and enthusiasm. Decisions, per se,are not right or wrong he exhorted. It is how you implement your decision which will make it right (or wrong). Once you murder the alternative your full attention and interest is tied to the chosen path. And you will be successful as you travel that road with your whole heart and full steam. Murder the alternative and enjoy the scenery on the chosen path.

Learning no 2 : “Doing a good deed is it’s own reward. Don’t expect that you will be rewarded for good acts. The very opportunity you got to do a good act, is it’s own reward.” Many times we think that I have done something positive and good, and so I deserve some special consequences. “What will I get in return?” is the thought that drives many of us. “Aama maru su?” as my Gujju friends have made famous. Or in management parlance WIIFM? (What Is In It For Me?) That is normal thinking. My Father’s challenge to that was: “God could have chosen anyone to do the good deed. Why did He get it done by your hands. You are privileged and rewarded already. What more do you want?” So the concept was “neki kar aur bhool ja” If you have done good, do not seek any returns. The great cycle of Karma will catch up with you. Your good works will be rewarded somewhere, sometime, by someone. Do not expect immediate returns. Good will come back to you from unexpected quarters. But do good and move on. Baba’s philosophy was very similar to the Zen teaching ” it is not the receiver but the giver who must be grateful” the Giver has, and so he can give. So truly the Giver must be thankful and grateful that he is blessed enough that he can give.

Final Learning point 3: This was long, long ago when I was just learning to drive and just had a Learner’s license. A health emergency made us pack 9 people in an Ambassador and we were driving down from Mumbai to Goa. My father was so distraught that he could not drive. I, all of 18, with just a few days of learning driving “experience” was thrust into the driver’s seat. Heavy responsibility on my head and I was scared half to death. I drove out of Mumbai, took the car upto Khopoli which signaled the beginning of the Bor Ghat. Those days everyone halted at Khopoli to cool the engine, put fresh water and wet cloth on the radiator to avoid over heating. And then began the treacherous 9.5 kms climb.

People travelling the expressway cannot imagine how difficult it was to climb from Khopoli to Lonavala. Small 2 track road. Heavy trucks. Sharp gradients. Hairpin bends galore. Mostly you had to be in 1st and 2nd gear. Engines and vehicles stalled on both sides of the narrow 2 track road and created their own challenges. Continuous Stop-Start and grueling zero speed climbs forced many to use stones under the rear wheel to prevent cars from rolling back. And now imagine a learner with a big, unwieldy Ambassador, over loaded to the hilt, having to climb the Bor Ghat.

So I stopped at Khopoli and told my father : pl take over the steering wheel, I can’t dare to climb the ghat. My father asked me why. I told him I was scared: the car will roll back. I can’t control. Too many lives at stake. I can’t drive. Coolly, even at that moment, my father turned to me and said: “Vikas don’t think of the 9.5 kms ghat. At every moment you have to just control the car for the next 20 feet. Keep climbing 20 feet at a time. And then climb the next 20 feet. Keep going, and the car will climb the ghat. Son, you worry about just 20 feet at a time. And that you can certainly do”

I did that and climbed the ghat. And realized the truth of his sentence. Later I learnt the English saying of swimming the sea, one wave at a time. What my father taught me that day has helped me overcome many mountains, many challenges as I went through life. Don’t worry about the size of the task. Climb just the next 20 feet. And then the next 20. Problem will get resolved. Many a time when I have been faced with complex problems and challenges in my 35 years’ professional career or 62 years’ life’s ups and down: my father’s advice still rings in my years : son think of controlling just the next 20 feet,the immediate problem, today’s issue. And the larger problem will get solved.

I was fortunate to have father like that. And am sure you too can gain from his native intelligent advice. So remember the three learnings: murder the alternative, climb the next 20 feet without getting scared of the big, bad mountain and eternally, be grateful and give what you can.

Be happy; go forth in confidence doing all the good you can : vikas, proud son of Sharatchandra

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