Sunday, July 30, 2006

Life hath no shortcuts...
When I was in the school I always thought why in the world, we should study so much. Call it immaturity or the rebel of a young blood, I used to always look for an opportunity for short cuts to do my homework, assignments, tests, exams etc. Right up to my college I didn’t change much. Looking back I think my college years were the most formative years of my life because my attitude towards life changed. If I were to credit someone for making me stop looking at ways to ‘short-cut’ in life, it must go to my English teacher – Mr. HB Srinivas.

He was a thorough gentleman, soft spoken, well read and an extremely patient man. During my B.Com years we used to be a rowdy bunch in class but he never lost his cool. And I used to be notorious in his class because he was so mild mannered. Then one day he called me aside and said “Maltesh, it’s hard to believe you are my former colleague’s son. Your mother was so well mannered and highly educated”. It was only later that I found out that both of them were working in the same college when my mom was a teacher way back in the late 1960’s.

From that day on I interacted with him a lot more and I would say the varied interactions that I had with him collectively made me to appreciate that working hard has its own merits. He was a staunch agnostic person. Though his small home was squeezed between two of the oldest temples in Davangere, he would never visit them even once. He would say he is actually the treasure keeper of the God’s wisdom and point at the thousands of books that adorned his shelves. I probably must have had a dozen English teachers in my life, but he will always remain my favorite.

Despite being a rationalist, he once narrated a wonderful story from the Hindu mythology about how Lord Indira puts some sanity in a student who wants to gain mastery over the Vedas. The student apparently tells his Acharya that he would gain the knowledge of the Vedas by performing severe penances rather than studying them under his tutorship over several years of classes. Thus the student goes to the banks of Ganges River and starts to do harsh penances and prays upon Indira. In due course, Indira appears before him and asks him what is the boon that he seeks. The student says he wants to have the mastery over the Vedas. Indira replies, then you should seek a good teacher and learn it from him. The student says he doesn’t have the patience to wait that long and hence he is doing the penances. Indira then vanishes telling him that he cannot help him. The student continues his penances and eventually Indira returns again only to hear the same plea by the student. Indira chides him and tells him that Vedas can’t be gained by doing just penances and that such rich knowledge will come only by studying. For which the student replies that he would continue his penances till such time he either dies or gets the knowledge of the Vedas.

Indira gets worried as he watches the student increase the severity of the penance every day. So one day he disguises himself as an old man and goes to the bank of the river where the student regularly penances. In front of the student, he starts to take handfuls of sand and starts to throw it in the river. The student after observing the old man throw handful of sand, one after the other, into the mighty Ganges, comes to him and asks what he is doing. To which the old man replies “I am building a bridge across this mighty river by throwing the sand into it”. The student bursts out laughing and tells him that it is a foolish way to build the bridge by throwing fistful of sand into the river. The old man then looks at him and tells him: “Well, if you think that you can master all the Vedas by a few weeks of penances, instead of several years of careful study, then I am certain I can a build a bridge too”. The student then realizes his folly and begs for forgiveness when he realizes that the old man is none other than Indira.

My teacher would often say that many among us usually entertain a misconception that we alone have been made to face problems and that God has singled us out to go through trials and tribulations. This is far from the actual truth. We just don’t know or fail to grasp the pains and trials of other people. We can’t expect to make a wonderful idol from a stone by just wishing it. It needs to be hammered a 1000 times before it looks beautiful. I guess life is no different. We need to go through varied, and very often painful, experiences to become better humans. There IS no shortcut!
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