Man at His Best
I cry easily. I once burst into tears when the curtain came down on the Kirov Ballet's 'Swan Lake'. I still choke up every time I see a film of patriotism and sacrifice like Dilip Kumar dying in 'Shaheed'. I guess I am emotionally moved by witnessing men and women at their best. But they need not be great men and women doing great things.
Take the night, some years ago, when my wife and I were going to dinner at a friend's house in Dhobi Talao, Bombay. It was raining. As we hurried towards the house, I noticed a car pulling out from the kerb. Just ahead, another car was waiting to back into the parking. But before he could do so, another car came up from behind and sneaked into the spot. 'That's a dirty trick', I thought.
While my wife went ahead into our friend's house, I stepped into the street to give the guilty driver a piece of my mind. A man rolled down the window.
"Hey", I said, "this parking space belongs to that guy". I gestured towards the man ahead who was looking back angrily. I thought I was being a good Samaritan—and I remember that at that moment I was feeling quite tough.
"Mind your own business," the driver told me.
"No", I said. "You don't understand. That fellow was waiting to back into this space."
Things quickly heated up until finally he leapt out of the car. My God, he was colossal! He grabbed me and bent me back over the hood of his car as if I were a rag doll. The rain water stung my face. I glanced at the other driver looking for help but he sped away.
The huge man shook his rock of a fist at me and told me to beat it.
Almost in a panic, I scrambled to my friend's front door. As a former athlete, as a man, I felt utterly humiliated. Seeing that I was shaken, my wife and friends asked me what had happened. All I could bring myself to say was that I had an argument about a parking space. They had the sensitivity to let it go at that.
I sat stunned. Perhaps half an hour later, the doorbell rang. My blood ran cold. For some reason I was sure that the bruiser had returned for me. My hostess got up to answer it but I stopped her. I felt morally bound to answer it myself. I walked down the corridor with dread. Yet I knew I had to face up my fear. I opened the door. There he stood, towering.
"I came back to apologize, “he said in a low voice. "When I got home, I said to myself, what right did I have to do that? I'm ashamed of myself. All I can tell you is that today was a bad day for me. Things just went wrong. I'm not myself. I hope you'll accept my apology."
I often remember that big man. I think of the effort and courage it took for him to come back to apologize. He was man at his best.
And I remember that after I closed the door, my eyes blurred as I stood in the corridor for a few moments alone.
Run, Pammi, Run
At a young and tender age, Pramilla Kaur or Pammi, as she was fondly called, was told by her doctor that she was an epileptic. Her father, Surinder Singh, was a morning jogger. One day she smiled through her teenage braces and said, "Daddy, what I'd really love to do is run with you every day, but I'm afraid I'll have a seizure."
Her father told her, "If you do, I know how to handle it, so let's start running."
That's just what they did every day. It was a wonderful experience for them to share and there were no seizures at all while she was running. After a few weeks she told her father, "Daddy, what I'd really love to do is run a marathon from one town to another."
As a first year student in her college Pammi announced, "I'm going to run from Ludhiana to Amritsar". (A distance of 135 kms). "Later, I will run to Delhi." (A distance of 310 kms).
That year she completed her run to Amritsar wearing a T-shirt that read, T Love Epileptics'. Her Dad ran every kilometre at hex- side, and her mother, a school teacher, followed in a motor car behind them in case anything went wrong.
In her second year at college, Pammi's classmates got behind her. They built a giant poster that read, 'Run, Pammi, Run!' Before her second marathon run, a doctor told her she had to stop her long runs. "It's too dangerous. You may sustain permanent damage."
"Doctor, you don't understand", she said. "This isn't just a whim of mine; it's a magnificent obsession! I'm not just doing it for me; I'm doing it to break the chains on the brains that limit so many others." The doctor finally agreed saying, "It would be incredibly painful." He gave her a parting advise: "When the feet blisters, wrap it up."
She finished the run to Delhi, completing her last mile with the principal of her college.
When awarded a plaque by the college governing body, she told the audience, "I wanted people to know that epileptics are normal human beings with normal lives."
If Pramilla Kaur could do so much with so little, what cannot normal people do to outperform themselves in a state of total wellness ?
The Cripple Who Became A Champion
The little village schoolhouse was heated by an old-fashioned, coal stove. A little boy had the job of coming to school early each day to start the fire and warm the room before his teacher and his classmates arrived.
One morning they arrived to find the schoolhouse engulfed in flames. They dragged the unconscious little boy out of the flaming building more dead than alive. He had major burns over the lower half of his body and was taken to the nearby hospital.
From his bed the dreadfully burned, semi-conscious little boy faintly heard the doctor talking to his mother. The doctor told his mother that her son would surely die—which was for the best, for the terrible fire had devastated the lower half of his body.
But the brave boy didn't want to die. He made up his mind that he would survive. Somehow, to the amazement of the physician, he did survive. When the mortal danger was past, he again heard the doctor and his mother speaking quietly. The mother was told that since the fire had destroyed so much flesh in the lower part of his body, it would almost have been better if he had died, since he was doomed to be a lifetime cripple with no use at all of his lower limbs.
Once more the brave boy made up his mind. He would not be a cripple. He would walk. But unfortunately from the waist down, he had no mobility. His thin legs just dangled there, all but lifeless.
Ultimately he was released from the hospital. Every day his mother would massage his little legs, but there was no feeling, no control, nothing. Yet his determination that he would walk was as strong as ever.
When he wasn't in bed, he was confined to a wheelchair. One sunny day his mother wheeled him out into the yard to get some fresh air. This day, instead of sitting there, he threw himself from the chair. He pulled himself across the grass, dragging his legs behind him.
He worked his way to the white picket fence bordering their lawn. With great effort he raised himself up on the fence. Then he began dragging himself along the fence, resolved that he would walk. He started to do this every day. There was nothing he wanted more than to develop life in those legs.
Ultimately through his daily massages, his iron persistence and his resolute determination, he did develop the ability to stand up, then to walk haltingly, then to walk by himself-and then-to run.
He began to walk to school, then to run to school, to run for the sheer joy of running. Later in college he made the track team.
Still later in New York this young man who was not expected to survive, who would surely never walk, who could never hope to run— this determined young man, Dr. Glenn Cunningham, ran the world's fastest mile!
Dinner Table University
I once read the interesting story of an immigrant Italian family in America where the father had converted the dinner table into a university. When the father was growing up in northern Italy at the turn of the century, education was for the rich. Father was the son of a poor fanner.
He was taken from school in the fifth standard and put to work. He made the world his school. He was interested in every thing. He read all the books, magazines and newspapers. He loved to listen to the town elders and learn all about the world. He carried his respect for learning to America, where he emi-grated and later passed it on to his family. He was determined that none of his many children were denied an education.
He believed that the greatest sin was to go to bed at night as ignorant as when one awoke. "Though we are born stupid, only the stupid remain that way," he'd say.
He insisted that each of his children learn at least one new thing each day. And dinner time was the forum for sharing what each had learnt that day.
After food was served and initial eating done, he would pull back his chair, pour a glass of red wine, light up a cigar, inhale deeply, exhale and stare hard at all his children.
This always had a slightly unsettling effect on the children as they stared back at him, awaiting for him to say something, and then his attention would settle on one of them. "Felice,” he'd say, "tell me what you learnt today."
The result was that each of the children would pour into an encyclopedia during the day and would come up with an answer like "the population of Venezuela is " There would be a short discussion like "how many men and how many females," and then the next child would be asked a question. No dinner ended without the children having been enlightened by atleast half a dozen such facts.
The son who wrote this story stated that in retrospect. "I realised what a dynamic educational technique Papa was offering us. Without being aware of it, our family was growing together, sharing knowledge and participating in one another’s education."
I write this story so that those Papas who value learning can emulate this great '5th standard passed Papa' and bring into the life of their children knowledge, love, togetherness and the realization that in life not a day need be wasted. After all, one never can tell when knowing the population of Venezuela may prove useful.
I’ll Always BeThere.....
In 1989 an 8.2 earthquake almost flattened Armenia, killing over 30,000 people in less than four minutes.
In the midst of utter devastation and chaos, a father left his wife securely at home and rushed to the school were his son was supposed to be, only to discover that the building was flat as a steel plate.
After the traumatic initial shock, he remembered the promise he had made to his son: “No matter what, I’ll always be there for you!” And tears began to fill his eyes. As he looked at the pile of debris that once was the school, it looked hopeless, but he kept remembering his commitment to his son.
He began to concentrate on where he walked his son to the class at school each morning. Remembering his son’s classroom would be in the back right corner of the building , he rushed there and started digging through the rubble.
As he was digging, other forlorn parents arrived, clutching their hearts, saying: “My son! My daughter!” Other well meaning tried to pull him off of what was left of the school saying:
”It’s too late!”
“You can’t help!”
“Come on, face reality, there’s nothing you can do!”
”You’re just going to make things worse!”
To each parent he responded with one line: “Are you going to help me now?” And then he proceeded to dig for his son, stone by stone.
The fire chief showed up and tried to pull him off of the school’s debris saying, “Fires are breaking out, explosions are happening everywhere. You’re in danger. We’ll take care of it. Go home.” To which this loving, caring Armenian father asked, “Are you going to help me now?”
The police came and said, “You’re angry, distraught and it’s over. You’re endangering others. Go home. We’ll handle it!” No one helped.
Courageously he proceeded alone because he needed to know for himself: “Is my boy alive or is he dead?”
He dug for eight hours ….. 12 hours …… 24 hours …… 36 hours …… then, in the 38th hour, he pulled back a boulder and heard his son’s voice. He screamed his son’s name, “ARMAND!” He heard back, “Dad!? It’s me, Dad! I told the other kids not to worry. I told them if you are alive, you’d save me and when you saved me they’d be saved. You promised, ‘No matter what, I’ll always be there for you!’ You did it, Dad!”
“What’s going on in there? How is it?” the father asked.
“There are 14 of us left out of 33, Dad. We’re scared, hungry, thirsty and thankful you’re here. When the building collapsed, it made a wedge, like triangle and it saved us.”
“Come on out, boy!”
“No, Dad! Let the other kids out first, because I know you’ll get me! No matter what, I know you’ll always be there for me!”
Some Letters of Albert Einstein
Just over a century ago, Albert Einstein was born in Ulm, Germany. Recognized in his lifetime as one of the greatest intellects of the ages, he revolutionized scientific thought with his General Theory of Relativity, which he published in Berlin in 1916. He received many letters from a fascinated, respectful public, as well as from friends and colleagues. These excerpts are taken from a collection selected and edited by Helen Dukas, Einstein's secretary and Banesh Hoffmann, a physicist and former collaborator of Einstein.
"Dear Miss Ley," Einstein wrote to a young cousin who had missed him on a visit to Stuttgart in 1920, "I hear you are dissatisfied because you did not see your uncle. Let me tell you what I look like: pale face, long hair, and a tiny beginning of a paunch. In addition, an awkward gait, and a cigar in the mouth - if he happens to have a cigar - and a pen in his pocket or hand. But crooked legs and warts he does not have, and so he is quite handsome - also no hair on his hands such as is often found on ugly men. So it is indeed a pity that you did not see me. With warm greetings from Your uncle, Einstein".
Einstein disliked the rat race for promotion. In May 1927, when the scientific world was wondering who would be the successor to Max Planck's professorship at the University of Berlin, he wrote to Ehrenfest:
"I am not involved, thank God, and no longer need to take part in the competition of the big brains. Participating has always seemed to me to be a type of slavery, no less evil than the passion for money or power".
Replying to birthday greetings from Sigmund Freud in 1929, who referred to him as 'You Lucky One', Einstein wrote: Why do you stress my luck? You, who have slipped under the skin of so many a man, have nevertheless had no opportunity to slip under mine.'
In 1930, a letter from England posed the following question: "If, on your death bed, you looked back on your life, by what facts would you determine whether it was a success or failure ?"
"Neither on my death bed nor before", replied Einstein, "will I ask myself such a question. Nature is not an engineer or contractor, and I myself am a part of nature."
A New York sixth-standard student wrote in 1936 to ask whether scientists prayed, and if so, for what. "I have tried," said Einstein, "to respond to your question as simply as I could. Here is my answer.
"Scientific research is based on the idea that everything that takes place is determined by laws of nature, and therefore this holds for the actions of people. For this reason, a research scientist will hardly be inclined to believe that events could be influenced by a prayer, i.e. by a wish addressed to a supernatural being.”
However, it must be admitted that our actual knowledge of these laws is only imperfect and fragmentary. So, actually, the belief in the existence of basic all embracing laws in nature also rests on a sort of faith. All the same, this faith has been largely justified so far by the success of scientific research.”
But, on the other hand, everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe, a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which, we with our modest powers must feel humble”.
An editor preparing to address the 1948 conference of the American Library Association wrote to complain of a widespread loss of interest in science books for the layman. "Most books about science", replied Einstein, "that are said to be written for the layman seek more to impress the reader than to explain clearly the elementary aims and methods. After an intelligent layman has tried to read a couple of such books he becomes completely discouraged. His conclusion is: I am too feeble minded and had better give up. In addition, the entire description is done mostly in a sensational manner which repulses a sensible layman.
"Not that the readers are at fault: it is the authors and the publishers. No popular book on science should be published before it is established that it can be understood and appreciated by an intelligent and judicious layman."
In 1950, a graduate student wrote to Einstein for advice. The student was Jewish, and he had fallen in love with a girl of the Baptist faith. While the young man's parents liked the girl, they were frightened of inter-religious marriage and gave voice to their objection. The young man found himself torn between his love for the a girl and his desire not to alienate his parents and cause them lasting pain. Einstein drafted a they on the back of the letter :
"I have to tell you frankly that I do not approve of parents exerting influence on decisions of their children that will determine the shapes of their children's lives. Such problems, one must solve oneself".
"However, you must ask yourself this question : am I, deep down, independent enough to be able act against the wishes of my parents without losing my inner equilibrium ? If you do not feel certain about this, the step you plan is not be recommended in the interests of the girl. On this consideration alone should you make your decision depend".
And when will it all end? In answer to an oral question from a child, transmitted by her mother, Einstein wrote the following reply :
"There has been an earth for a little more than a thousand million years. As for the question of the end of it, I advise: wait and see!
P.S. I enclose a few stamps for your collection".
The Little Mirror Girl
How hungry she was, and how weak she had become. She had not eaten a morsel of food for the past few days. And yet she was walking. She had to walk to keep, the pangs of hunger away and so she walked in the cruel, lonely world.
"So cruel and so lonely" thought the poor little mirror girl, as she walked here and there, up and down the cruel streets.
Her mother had died at child birth. Her father died when she was seven. For the last three years she lived on the streets, earning whatever she could in the various odd jobs that came her way. She never begged.
She had not eaten for the past few days. She had no job. What could she do? Poor little child. Hungry and lonely, she crept along.
Her long black hair clustered round her shoulders, and the strong wind blew her hair as a crown around her sad little face, but the little mirror girl thought neither of her curls nor of the wind.
It was Diwali night. That was what the little mirror girl thought as she slowly and sadly passed the brightly lit houses.
Diwali night! She saw the lights glimmering through the windows; she smelt—was it sweat rice and curd? she wondered hungrily. If only she might see the earthen lamps and the feasting inside the house. She would be content.
In her hand she carried a small mirror. In her tattered frock was wound a match-box. How she longed to light the earthen lamps!
She unwound the match-box from her frock and lighted a match-stick, and oh, what happiness! A bright-red flame shone out. She brought the burning match-stick near the mirror which she had placed in front of her and oh! what a surprise. The tiny flame became a great blaze in the mirror. Was it a magic mirror? She wondered.
And then listen! As the light still shone, she saw the Goddess Lakshmi in the mirror itself. The joyous fragrance of2 "Chandan" and joss sticks came wafting towards her from the prettily decked Goddess.
She stretched out her hand to touch the Goddess but alas! at that moment the flame faded away, the Goddess and the fragrance vanished. The little child was sitting cheerless and " alone with the burnt out match in her hand.
She could not help it, poor child; she drew out another match-stick, and lighted the stick against the wall.
It flared up and blazed, and oh! wonder of wonders, where-,y ever the light fell, the wall became thin like a gauze, and the little v girl could see right through it into the room within.
She saw a table covered with a white cloth and shining China dishes. A bowl of curd and sweet rice yes, it was really a bowl of curd and sweet rice that stood at one end of the table.
And then only think of this! The bowl of curd and sweet rice ' started moving from the table towards her, through the thin gauzed wall, straight up to her, the little mirror girl. Alas, at that, very moment the match burnt out, and there was beside her only the thick hard wall.
She struck another match, a third match. The flame blazed brightly. The little girl again looked at the mirror. And now she; saw hundreds of earthen lamps twinkling and burning brightly in the mirror. Hundreds of tiny painted figures also smiled at her from the mirror. She stretched out her hands eagerly towards them Alas! at that very moment her match burnt out.
But this time the earthen lamps did not stop burning. They shone, above the mirror. Higher and higher they rose, till she saw them beaming like stars against the sky. She looked up in the sky and saw— yes, the earthen lamps had become stars.
Twinkle twinkle little star
How I wonder what you are !'
She murmured sleepily to the starry sky.
And then lo! a strange thing happened. All around her, tiny flickering flames of firecrackers started falling. She was surrounded by them in a blaze of light, yet none fell on her body.
As she watched, she saw a bright star fall, and as it fell, it left a long streak of light across the sky.
Someone is going to God thought the child. For her father, the only person who had been kind to the little girl, had told her that when a star fells, a soul goes up to God.
The child drew another match-stick from the match-box and lighted it next to the mirror.
And now, in the mirror, she saw once more her father, who had left her long ago to be with God. He looked loving and gentle as ever, but happier than he had ever looked before.
"O father! Dear father, do not leave me", cried the little girl. And she hurriedly lit all the match-sticks that were left in the match-box, in her fear that her father would disappear.
"Take me with you, oh! take me with you", entreated the child.
The lights blazed up gloriously, beyond the mirror; moon-day itself could scarcely have been brighter.
And in those bright lights, the little girl kept seeing her father, who looked so tall and stately, so handsome and kind.
He lifted the child in his arms, and together they soared upward, joyfully and gladly, upward, far above the earth to the land where there is no poverty or hunger or tears—upward to be with God.
And when on the morning after Diwali, they found the cold little body of the poor girl with a mirror lying next to her, they said, "poor child! she has died of hunger". But they did not know the wonderful visions she had seen on the Diwali night; they did not know how God had himself lighted the world around her in a blaze which they couldn't imagine. They did not know how God had sent her father to bring the little mirror girl to him to celebrate Diwali. They also did not know how happy she now was in the paradise of God.
In 1948 my father was transferred from Jhansi to Lucknow. The air of independence was still blowing in Lucknow and everybody was talking Bharat and Hindi.
My parents too were infected. So, after convent schooling at Jhansi, I was sent to a Hindi medium school. I was 9 years old.
It was soon realized that my Hindi was weak and I needed tuition. So a Hindi teacher was hired who would come every afternoon. I called him 'masterji.
Masterji was a short, dark, thin bespectacled man, 50 years old. He was always clad in a white khadi dhoti-kurta and Gandhi cap.
The first lesson he gave was that I should fold my hands and say 2 namaste or lpranam to whomsoever I met. From next morning I started doing this to my servants to their great amusement. Of course, I did not, for obvious reasons, extend this scholarly knowledge to my classmates in school. To them it was still a hello, a nodding smile, or just a blank look of recognition.
Initially masterji would make me read, give a dictation and ask me to write an essay. All this was corrected the same day and my mistakes pointed out. In addition I would be given homework.
When I complained that the homework was too much, I was reprimanded and told that only hard work pays in life. He would then narrate stories of people like Einstein, C.V. Raman or J.C. Bose.
"You have to grow up to be like them."
As time passed things became more relaxed. Masterji would ask me to read some portions from a book and then write an essay. While I read or wrote; masterji would take off his cap, spread his legs and begin snoring. The essay which normally should not have taken more than 20-30 minutes was stretched to 50 minutes and as soon as I saw the hour coming to an end, I would wake him. He would quickly read the essay, pointing a few mistakes and leave. Very often he would give no essay as he would doze off while I was reading. Naturally, the homework given to me also became considerably less.
As summer approached masterji's duration of siesta also increased. As we entered our tuition room, I would close the door to ensure privacy and switch on the table fan. I ensured that the maximum air reached his face as this got him into his slumberous state quickly. While he slept, I relaxed and enjoyed myself.
One afternoon my mother suddenly entered the room for some errand and saw masterji sleeping. She was a strong headed woman with a fiery temper. As masterji abruptly rose from his chair she gave him a piece of her mind and sacked him. I too was not spared.
My tuitions had ended.
A few days later masterji came to see us. He again apologized to my mother and said that he misses us very much.
"Naturally," replied my mother, "who else would pay you to have your afternoon siesta."
Before leaving masterji took me aside and gave me a packet. He said I should open it after he left.
I opened it soon thereafter. It was a Hindi book of essays. On its opening page was written. "Mere bete Anil ko. Mai to nahin rahunga. Khubparho beteaurkabhikabhimujheyaadkarlena". (To my son Anil, I will not be there. Study hard son and sometimes remember me.)
Everybody Can Be a Achiever
Roger Crawford had everything he needed to play tennis— except two hands and a leg.
When Roger's parents saw their son for the first time, they saw a baby with a thumb-like projection extended directly out of his right forearm and a thumb and one finger stuck out of his left forearm. He had no palms. The baby's arms and legs were shortened, and he had only three toes on his shrunken right foot and a withered left leg, which would later be amputated.
The doctor said Roger suffered from ectrodactylism, a rare birth defect affecting less than 0.1% of children. The doctor said Roger would probably never walk or care for himself.
Fortunately Roger's parents didn't believe the doctor.
"My parents always taught me that I was only as handicapped as I wanted to be", said Roger. "They never allowed me to feel sorry for myself 01 take advantage of people because of my handicap. Once I got into trouble because my school papers were continually late", explained Roger, who had to hold his pencil with both hands to write slowly. "I asked Dad to write a note to my teachers, asking for a two day extension on my assignments. Instead Dad made me start writing my paper two days early!”
Roger's father always encouraged him to get involved in sports, teaching Roger to catch and throw volleyball, and play backyard football after school. At age 12, Roger managed to win a place in the school football team.
Roger's love of sports grew and so did his self-confidence. But not every obstacle gave way to Roger's determination. Eating in the lunchroom with the other kids watching him fumble with his food proved very painful to Roger, as did his repeated failure in typing class. "I learned a very good lesson from typing class," said Roger. "You can't do everything — it's better to concentrate on what you can do."
One thing Roger could do was swing a tennis racket.
Unfortunately, when he swung it hard, his weak grip usually launched it into space. By luck, Roger stumbled upon an odd-looking tennis racket in a sports shop and accidentally wedged his finger between its double-barred handle when he picked it up. The snug fit made it possible for Roger to swing, serve and volley like an able-bodied player. He practiced every day and was soon playing—and losing—matches.
But Roger persisted. He practiced and practiced and played and played. Surgery on the two fingers of his left hand enabled Roger to grip his special racket better, greatly improving his game. Although he had no role models to guide him, Roger became obsessed with tennis and in time he started to win.
Roger went on to play college tennis, finishing his tennis career with 22 wins and 11 losses. He later became the first physically handicapped tennis player to be certified as a teaching professional by the United States Professional Tennis Association.
"The only difference between you and me," says Roger, "is that you can see my handicap, but I can't see yours. We all have them. When people ask me how I've been able to overcome my physical handicaps, I tell them that I haven't overcome anything. I've simply learned what I can't do—such as play the piano or eat with chopsticks—but more importantly, I've learned what I can do. Then I do what I can with all my heart and soul."