Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Do you have a coat, Ramappa?

After the previous deliberation on "Coach, Teacher and Mentor", the mind naturally thinks of the mentors of the past and their successful proteges.  To be an outstanding mentor is not a easy achievement.  One of the challenges for the mentor is that the mentee's actions and behavior reflect on his own personality.  By promoting the cause of an unworthy mentee, the mentor damages his own reputation and standing.  We all know of some outstanding pairs of mentor-mentee in our generation, and in diverse fields.  This is the episode of remembering one such highly respected pair.  It is all the more authentic as I had the privilege of hearing the same from a grateful mentee himself.

"Karnataka Lekhakara Sangha" is a forum of poets and writers, dedicated to literary activities and encouraging budding writers.  It is active in Bangalore and Karnataka for the past five decades.  It conducts various programs from time to time and arranges seminars and conventions to commemorate different events of cultural and literary importance.  Prof A R Krishnashastry (ARK) is a well-known name in Kannada Literature. He is one of the prominent personalities who ushered in the "Navodaya" movement, which is considered as a watershed in the history of Kannada language and its growth.  He was born in the year 1890 and Karnataka Lekhakara Sangha decided to celebrate his birth centenary in 1990. The celebration started with a function at Ambale, his birth place.  The grand finale was planned in Bangalore after 12 months.  In the intervening 11 months, eleven functions were conducted in different centers of Karnataka.  Mysore was chosen as the venue of one such functions as Prof ARK taught at Mysore University for a considerable period of time.  As an office-bearer of the Sangha and being stationed in Mysore at that time, I was given the responsibility of organizing the function at Mysore.

Prof K Venkataramappa was a student of ARK and worked along with him in the Mysore University later on.  He was 84 years old at that time and lived in a house near Geetha Road in Mysore.  I went to his house to invite him to be the lead speaker at the function.  He was very happy to accept our invitation despite his advanced age.  Thinking of his age, I mentioned to him that the venue of the function was near his house.  "He was my Teacher and Mentor.  I am very glad to know that his birth centenary is being celebrated by your Sangha.  Where the function will be held does not matter.  I would come even if it was in a far away place.  I will not miss an opportunity to remember him and pay my tributes during his birth centenary.  I will certainly be there", he said.  As promised he arrived at the venue and delivered one of the finest talks in Kannada that I have ever heard.  I remember his speech, though it was 25 years ago...........

Venkataramappa had just finished his MA examinations and results were expected in a week.  He received a message that he should meet Prof ARK.  Venkataramappa went and met him in his chambers.  "Your results are expected next week.  You would have certainly done well in the examinations.  I know what the result will be.  What do you plan for the future?"

"I will look for job, Sir"

"A lecturer's vacancy is coming up here.  File an application in the office tomorrow and meet me after submission"

"But the results have not yet come"

"Does not matter.  Make a mention of it in the application.  Results will be out by the time they process the applications"

Venkataramappa filed the application and met the Guru to inform him about compliance.

"Good. Do you have a coat, Ramappa?  You need one for the interview"

Ramappa hesitated.  ARK took out an envelope from his coat pocket.

"Take this envelope and go to my tailor Durgoji Rao's shop in the evening.  He will stitch a coat for you in three days"

Ramappa had to do as he was instructed.  That was the extent of reverence he had for his Guru. Results were out in a few days and Venkataramappa had passed with distinction.  He attended the interview and was selected for the lecturer's job.  ARK's student Venkataramappa was now his colleague.

A few months later.......

Venkataramappa was sitting and relaxing in the staff room having just returned from a class.  He got a message that he should meet Prof ARK in his chambers.  He went immediately and stood before him.  A distinguished gentleman was sitting before ARK.  Venkataramappa would not sit before the Guru unless he was asked to.

"Sit down, Ramappa.  Meet the Secretary of Madikeri's Kannada Sangha.  He wants a good speaker for their main function this year.  The function is slated for next Monday"

"Are you going, Sir?"

"Not me.  I want you to be the lead speaker this time.  Please accept their invitation"

Ramappa hesitated.  "I am also coming with you.  I will preside over the function, but you will be the main speaker".  Venkataramappa agreed.

Mentor and Mentee started by the morning bus from Mysore to Madikeri on Monday morning.  ARK was sitting near the window and Venkataramappa was next to him. After an hour's journey, the bus stopped in Hunsur bus stand.

"Ramappa, there is some dirty smell coming from this side"

"Dirty smell?  I am only getting the smell of sambar"

"Is it so?  Can you read what is written on that board?"

"Bus Stand Hotel, Sir"

"That is the place from which the sambar smell is coming.  Don't you like Idli-sambar?"

"I like it very much, Sir"

"Then get down and hurry up.  Unless you get down, I cannot.  Let us eat and get back before the driver starts the bus"

They had their idli-sambar.  Venkataramappa's speech at the function was highly appreciated by the gathering.  The Mentor was full of praise for the Mentee in the Presidential speech.  Prof. K Venkataramappa never looked back.  He authored many books and mentored another generation of students.

Prof A R Krishnashastry was a Mentor for many others.  Kuvempu (K V Puttappa), T N Srikantaiah, G P Rajarathnam, M V Seetharamaiah and Dr K Krishna Murthy are big names in Kannada Literature, even today. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Coach, Teacher and Mentor

The word "Mentor" is often used in present day situations. The words "Coach" and "Teacher" are also used in similar contexts. Are they synonyms or is there any difference between these three words?

To understand the origin of the word "Mentor", we have to turn to Greek mythology. "Epics of Gilgamesh", "Iliad and Odyssey" and our own "Ramayana" and "Mahabharata" are reckoned among the oldest epics in the history of mankind. Homer's "Iliad and Odyssey" has the evergreen story of Helen and the Trojan War. Helen of Troy is considered as the most beautiful woman ever born in reality or fiction.  "Was this the face that launched a thousand ships? And burnt the topless towers of Ilium? Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a sweet kiss.....", says Christopher Marlowe in his poem titled "The face that launch'd a thousand ships". Odysseus, King of Ithaca was one of the men who wanted to marry this beautiful girl. When Helen's mother Queen Leda's husband (not father because Greek God Zeus is considered as her father)  and King of Sparta, Tyndareus decides that it is time for Helen to marry, Odysseus convinces him to make all the innumerable suitors to take a oath to accept the choice of Helen and support her husband when the need arises in future. Helen chose the prince of Mycenae, Menelaus. They lived happily for sometime and Menelaus even became King of Sparta. On the advice of the Greek Goddess Aphrodite, Prince of Troy Paris comes to Sparta and sees Helen. On a day when Menelaus is away in Crete, Paris takes Helen to Troy. Some versions say she was kidnapped and some others say she was seduced by the charms of Paris and went willingly. When Menelaus returned and found that his wife was gone, he sought the assistance of the former suitors of Helen to wage a war on Troy, as per their previous agreement. Having been the one to suggest such an arrangement, Odysseus was in the forefront of those who went to Troy to bring back Helen.

When Odysseus left for the Trojan war, his son Telemachus was an infant.  Odysseus did not return for twenty years and Telemachus grew up into a young man in the meantime. Telemachus went in search of his father and met his father's friend by name "Mentor". It is said that Greek Goddess Athena took the appearance of Mentor and guided young Telemachus at different times to search his father. Father and son duo return to Ithaca and ensure the defeat of the many suitors who had camped in their house seeking the hand of Penelope, Odysseus's wife and Telemachus's mother. Since Mentor encouraged Telemachus to stand up to all the suitors of his mother and find his father, the word "Mentor" has come to stay to denote a "wise and trusted counselor who imparts wisdom and share knowledge to solve personal problems".

The origin of the word "Coach" is said to come from Hungary. Hungarian city of Kocs is credited with being the first place to make carriages which are used to carry people from one place to another. In those days coaches were drawn by horses and were used as one of the earliest means of transport. The word coach is used even today in railway and other transports. "Sleeper coach" and "Luxury coach" are examples of such usage. In air transport also "Coach Class" is used by many airlines to denote "Economy class". This aspect of carrying people from place to place was later used to identify a person who could carry a less able student to pass an examination or a course, and was called a "Coach". In our childhood, coaching classes were a popular name for according special training to students who have failed in an examination to appear and get through a supplementary examination later on. This term is now used extensively in the field of sports. The word now denotes anyone who acts as a person to guide the youngsters in his charge to achieve excellence in their chosen fields or disciplines. Nowadays there are even teams of coaches and assistants to attend to the various requirements of the activity called coaching.  As defined by Cummings and Worley, "Coaching is a development process whereby an individual meets his wards on a regular basis to clarify goals, deal with potential stumbling blocks and improve their performance".

The word "Teacher" has its origin in the word "Teach".  "Teach" takes its form from "Index finger" and indicates to "show or point out" or "give instruction". On-line dictionary defines a teacher as one who teaches or instructs, as a profession. A teacher usually teaches in a public place where a number of students come to learn. If the teaching is done privately or at home, a person imparting education thus is called as a "Tutor" (man) or "Governess" (woman). A teacher of a higher rank doing the same job in a place of advanced learning like a University is called a "Professor". He is a person who professes (lays a claim to) as an expert in a particular field.

In the background of the above, the three words can be said to have the following characteristics and differences:

  • Coaching is an intervention that is highly personal and usually involves a one-to-one relationship between the coach and those coached. Teaching is a general activity of instructing or imparting education in a public place where a number of students enroll themselves. Teachers follow structured learning and process is based on a course curriculum. Mentoring is a personal developmental relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps to guide a lesser experienced or lesser knowledgeable person.
  • The relationships are called Coach and Coachee or more commonly client, Teacher and Student and Mentor and Protege or Mentee respectively.
  • A coach often has the freedom to choose his clients whereas a teacher instructs a class entrusted to him and does not enjoy this freedom. In mentoring, the relationship between mentor and mentee is more sensitive and is usually between two persons in the same organization or profession.
  • Coaching and Teaching can be at elementary levels whereas Mentoring generally happens at a higher plane.
  • Coaching and Teaching are formal processes whereas Mentoring is more of an informal process.
  • Coaching and Teaching can be professional activities whereas Mentoring is more voluntary in nature. Coach and Teacher are paid a remuneration for their efforts whereas there may not be such payment in Mentoring.
  • Coaches have technical expertise while teachers have professional qualifications. Mentors are chosen on the basis of their experience and skills and are paired with a less experienced colleague in the organization or profession. Peer mentoring is often an informal activity and revolves around hand-holding in crucial phases of development.
The above characteristics are general in nature and cover the broad contours of the three activities. There can be many instances wherein a coach or a teacher may emerge as a mentor for a few of their wards or students. One such example is of the famous combination of Ramakant Achrekar and Sachin Tendulkar. Achrekar has been a coach for many but Tendulkar considers him as more than a coach, a mentor.

In Mahabharata, Krishna was a mentor for Arjuna. Shakuni was Duryodhana's mentor. Results are there for all to see. Among the famous Mentors and Mentees are Chanakya and Chandragupta, Aristotle and Alexander the great, Bobby Charlton and David Beckham, and more recently Rahul Dravid and Ajinkya Rahane.

To be a Mentor is not a matter of pride; it is a rare privilege and distinction. It is far-removed from arrogance; humbleness is its hallmark. To act as a Mentor is a wonderful opportunity to repay a small part of the investment made by the society in one's own development over the years.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Garuda, Bamboo and Rahul Dravid

"Uchaishravas" is a celestial horse said to have been a by-product of the churning of the milky ocean. Devas and Asuras in their quest for generating Amrutha, the life-giving nectar, churned the milky ocean and this process gave birth to many precious things. Uchaishravas was one of them.  Of course, there was also Halaahala, the most toxic poison ever produced in a manufacturing activity, which was probably very similar to the worst type of industrial waste produced today. Lord Shiva acted as the most capable pollution controller.  In order to avoid any protests at the pollution control site, he drank the poison himself and none could complain about it. Uchaishravas is believed to be an all-white horse that can fly and some versions mention that it is seven-headed as well. As soon as Uchaishravas appeared in the churning factory, Indra, head of the Devas side moved it to his heavenly stables. Flying horses have caught the imagination of humans for a long long time.  We can see a similar reference in Greek Mythology as well.  Pegasus is believed to be a horse with wings and could fly at great speed.

One fine evening, Uchaishravas was peacefully grazing on the shores of the mighty ocean. Kadru and Vinuta, the two daughters of Daksha Prajapati and wives of Kashyapa Prajapati had gone for an evening walk on the beach.  They saw this horse from a distance and got into an argument.  Kadru said that the horse was white no doubt, but its tail was black. Vinuta did not agree and insisted that the horse was all-white and there was no question of any black mark anywhere on its body.  They tried to go near the horse for a detailed first hand inspection.  But the horse flew away as they neared it.  Thus the physical inspection could not be completed and no clear inference could be drawn. They agreed for another inspection on the next day, but had a wager.  The one who lost the bet would be a slave of the winner for life.  The master could, however, release the slave by accepting a costly gift, a gift that is mutually agreed upon.  No attorney was involved in drafting the agreement, but it was as good an enforceable contract as any ever made.  Since slavery was not yet banned in those times, it could not be held void. On reaching home, Kadru told her sons, the Serpents, about her wager.  The sons knew that the horse was all-white, but did not want their mother to be a slave to their step-mother.  They decided upon fudging on the evidence, one of the earliest instances in which evidence was tampered with. When the sisters went for the inspection on the next day, all the black serpents hugged the tail of the horse to make it look black. Kadru somehow managed to avoid a close inspection and Vinuta was wrongly sentenced to life long slavery.

Vinuta cursed her fate and lived the life of a slave.  Being a slave to her own sister and a co-wife was unbearable.  She went to her husband and requested for a way out. Taking pity on her condition, Kashyapa Prajapati granted her a boon.  As a result of the boon, she laid three eggs.  Anything was possible as a result of the boon, as it was a very powerful one. She took good care of the eggs for a long time, but they never hatched. Unable to wait any longer, she forcefully broke the first egg.  A very strong lightening came out of the egg and that was it.  She cursed her fate again and continued to take care of the other two eggs. After another long interval, she again lost patience and broke the second egg too.  A handsome boy came out of the egg, but his body was not fully formed.  His lower limbs had not yet taken shape.  He advised his mother to be patient and wait for the last egg to hatch on its own.  He assured that the younger brother will certainly deliver her from slavery, but she had to be infinitely patient.  He went away and became the charioteer of the Sun god. His name is "Aruna" and the colourful light that arrives everyday just before sunrise is therefore called "Arunodaya", meaning "heralding a new day.

Vinuta resumed her indefinite wait patiently for another long interval of time.  One day, the third egg hatched suddenly and a strong bird emerged from it. Known as Garuda, this son of Vinutha fought with the Devas, brought nectar from heaven as desired by Kadru and got his mother freed from her slavery. Indra ensured that Kadru and her sons never tasted the nectar. But as the conditions for release were satisfied, Vinuta was free and Kadru had no other remedy except to curse her own fate and let the matter rest there.  Garuda became a permanent enemy of the Nagas (serpants).  The product of the third egg and Vinuta's eternal wait became Vishnu's chariot and remains a sacred symbol for the Vaishnavites. The egg took a long time to hatch, but the growth was fantastic, giving birth to the mighty Garuda.  Garuda is not only worshipped in India, but is also a national symbol for Indonesia.
Bamboo is from the "Grass family" and represents a similar specie of plant life as Garuda is among the birds. Bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants in the world.  The Chinese variety is especially well known for this. Anji area of China is known as the "Town of Bamboos".  If this bamboo seed is planted, watered and nurtured for an entire year, nothing sprouts.  Wait for another year, nothing comes out.  Not until five years.  Then suddenly a tiny shoot springs.  Over the next six weeks, it can grow up to a height of 90 feet!  The growth is as high as 4 feet in 24 hours.  Why is it so? Plants usually grow both above the soil upwards as well as downwards within the soil.  But bamboo takes five years to grow its roots and prepares for the rapid growth above the ground thereafter.  It is common to say that bamboo grows 90 feet in six weeks, but the truth is it actually takes five years and six weeks to grow 90 feet.   

Indian cricket team is now touring England. Sad memories of the last tour are haunting all those concerned with the present visit. There need not be any fear of a repeat performance.  This team may do much better.  It can do even worse also. Those in authority at cricket administration have requested Rahul Dravid to mentor the team during this present tour.  The conditions in England are noticeably different from those obtaining in other parts of the world. The conditions are conducive to swing and seam bowling.  Success in batting there often depends on standing rooted to the crease for hours with patience and diligence. There are a few like Sir Garfield Sobers and Sir Vivian Richards who could attack from the first ball.  But they were honorable exceptions.  Staying on the pitch during the initial difficult phase of an innings is the key to success.  This should be preceded by hours of practice at the nets.  Strength is to be accumulated before hatching like Garuda and roots are to be grown like bamboo to capitalize later on when the bowlers tire.  Rahul Dravid showed this patience quite often and unmindful of what others said about him.  It is indeed a testimony for his patience at the crease that he is now remembered for the mentoring role for the present team.  When asked to talk to youngsters, Rahul is often said to speak to them about the bamboo and its growth. Naturally. 

When advising his bowlers while preparing for a test match, Australian Captain Steve Waugh is reported to have said, "Try to take Dravid's wicket in the first fifteen minutes.  If you can't, then only try to take the remaining wickets".   Steve Waugh most likely did not know about Garuda.  He probably did not think of Bamboo and the secret of its growth.  But he knew Rahul Dravid quite well. He can never forget Dravid's 616 ball vigil for 305 runs in Adelaide Oval in 2003.  It is no surprise that he asked Rahul Dravid to write the foreword to his own autobiography.