Thursday, April 14, 2011
The message caught me by surprise. It said Arjun had called. He had left his mobile number. I returned the call.
“I don’t know if you remember me, Sudharshan sir” the young man said.
“How can I forget you, Arjun?” I said.
He didn’t talk much. He said that he would be coming tomorrow to meet me. My thoughts raced back to the past.
Arjun was studying in the same class in high school with my son Vijay. Vijay was very bright in his studies. But Arjun was considered by the teachers as below average. I was also a teacher in the school. When they reached to ninth standard I was their class teacher.
One day I asked Arjun to go to blackboard to work something out.
He said, “I can’t to do that sir”
I said, “Why not?”
He paused with embarrassment and said slowly, “I am below average student sir. Every teacher knows that”
I looked at him sternly and said, “Don’t ever say that again. Someone’s opinion of you does not have to become your reality”
I became his mentor. I always believed what Goethe said, “Look at a man the way he is, he only becomes worse. But look at him as if he were what he could be, and then he becomes what he should be”. And also I strongly believed that ‘nobody rises to low expectations.’
I took special classes to Arjun. Sometimes he came to my house to study. My son Vijay disliked my efforts to improve Arjun’s learning. He always said that I was wasting my time on that boy. But I gave no importance to his opinion. I said to him, “Vijay, everyone has something special in him. If he can get glimpse of the special-ness and proceed to improve himself, he can make a lot of difference in this world. He can touch millions of people’s lives”. My son simply laughed.
One day I told the same thing to Vijay. He asked. “Sir, Is there some special-ness within me also”
I said, “Yes Arjun”
“But I failed in English and Mathematics. I’m slower than most kids. I’m not as smart as Vijay”
“It doesn’t matter. It just means that you have to work harder. Your grades don’t determine who you are or what you can do in your life”
Education was real struggle for him. But I made demands on him. I made him accountable. I made him to believe that he could do it.
One day I asked him, “When you encounter an obstacle in life, what do you do?”
“I’ll try to overcome it” he said.
“What if you can’t? What if it’s like an equation that can’t be solved?”
He didn’t know what to say.
“If you can’t overcome it,” I said, “You must strike out in a new direction with everything you’ve got”.
“You see,” I added, “we all have setbacks and regrets. The question is what we do with them. If you think deep and try hard, you’ll overcome your obstacles or find a new, possibly better direction.”
It seemed to be very liberating moment for him. He nodded thoughtfully.
Slowly he had begun to do well academically. I was very happy with his progress. In SSLC examination he got very good marks. As his father was transferred to Chennai he went there for higher studies.
My son Vijay was very good in his higher studies but his character changed to worse. Vijay had lost his mother in his childhood. So I wanted to bring him up with extra affection. I realized very late that I spoiled him by my over affection. He turned out somewhat rebellious. He wanted to become very rich quickly. He developed friendship with boys of questionable character. I always taught my son to be a good man. I didn’t know what went wrong. My advice to him didn’t change him.
He said to me, “You are not fit to live in this kali-yuga, father.”
He thought he was right and he tried to prove it. He cited a few examples. I said dryly, “My son, even a stopped clock is right twice a day.”
His ambition led him to illegal activities. When he was turned 21, he was arrested by police for forgery of cheques. That hurt me a lot. People asked me “Why did your son do that?” I had no answers. He was released from prison after three years. Within two years of his release he was arrested once again. That time for drug-trafficking. I was pained more deeply than before. I refused to hire a lawyer for him. He called me names. He said that I was heartless person. He said that I was a bad father.
Years passed fast with aching emptiness... Now all these years later Arjun had called….
He came to my house next day. To my lonely life his visit meant a lot. I welcomed him happily. He told me that he was working in Infosys in managerial cadre. I was very happy for him. He didn’t ask about Vijay. He must have heard about him. So he didn’t want to open my wounds by asking about my son.
He took a gold medal from his pocket and gave it to me. He said that it was given to him by an international agency for a successful project submitted by him through the company. It was considered a rare privilege for an engineer.
He said in choked voice, “Sir, You restructured my own picture of who I am. You gave me a larger vision of myself, beyond my mental conditioning and my circumstances. You made me look inside and find my special-ness. You took the time and effort to make a great difference in my life. Without your guidance I would have remained a dull headed boy forever. I don’t know how to thank you. I want you to have this gold medal as a token of my gratitude to you….”
Tears welled up in my eyes. I might have failed as a father. But I have succeeded as a teacher. Suddenly I found some meaning for my past life. I was overwhelmed with emotions I’d never experienced before. My face was drenched in tears. I hugged him and whispered, “I’m so proud of you Arjun…”.