Life's Paathshala

Ankur Bora

We have great technology to connect and communicate, we have great engineering to build skyscrapers and Colosseum, we have great transportation to travel anywhere and see places. However, they are the means to handle things on the outside. I, on the other hand, value and cherish what’s on the inside of a human being. I am driven not by mechanical devices but by the reflections on my life– the echo of the joyful clamor of my childhood, the luminous teachings of an honorable teacher, moments of great difficulty and joy. Friends , today I am standing in front of you, someone born and raised in an obscure corner of the world, with pride and joy and if you ask me what made my dreams come true and carried me through, my answer is neither technology nor information media, but by the lessons of this big journey called life.

The high school in my town is one of the oldest schools established by British and in the year 1980 when I was admitted to the fifth grade. Our classroom was situated in a plain thatched house separate from the main building. We fondly called it Paathshala and my happiest moments took shape there. There was a huge banyan tree surrounding the Paathshala and on a clear day, we would go out and stand under the grand old tree reciting aloud the Morning Prayer. Some of my teachers were phenomenal – they played a vital role in enriching my nascent mind with the vista of science, the chasm of geography, the axioms of geometry and the mosaic of world literature. They taught me discipline, punctuality, neatness, hard work and my English teacher was the most influential. He regaled us with childhood stories of Abraham Lincoln , Mahatma Gandhi and Isaac Newton. There was magic in his words, and we were held spellbound. One day he led us outside to the Banyan tree and began narrating the story of Arjuna.

Once , Arjuna and all of his brothers and cousins gathered by the woodland with their bows and arrows. It was part of a competition organized by Drona , their teacher and mentor. Across a stream , Drona set up a small wooden bird in a tree. The winner of the competition would be the one who could strike the eye of that bird. The eldest brother took his turn, crouched slightly and drew his bowstring. “Wait , you have to answer my question , first”, Drona said. “Can you see the bird properly ? Tell me everything you can see.” Wanting to be thorough , he began to list off everything that met his eyes. “I see the wooden bird, the branches and the tree. I can even see the stream , the grass , the other trees , the sky and …” Interrupting him Drona ordered, “Put down your bows , you are disqualified.” Confused , the elder brother walked back to his brothers without questioning Dronas decision. The next boy was called forward and asked the same question. He gave a similar answer naming everything he could see. The same pattern continued with every boy that followed until Drona reached Arjuna , his favorite. The young boy took his place , his front foot forward and back foot slightly bent , notched his bow , and drew his string. “Tell me what you can see , Arjuna” , repeated Drona. “I can only see the eye of the bird,” replied Arjuna without breaking eye contact with his target. Drona was pleased with his response and gave the order , “Shoot!” The arrow sprang from the bow straight into the bird’s eye and the bird fell with a loud thud.

We looked on in amazement as our teacher completed the story. “Can any of you tell me why Arjuna was allowed to take the shot over the others?” I slowly raised my hand and answered, “Because , only he had the focus , attention and concentration.” My teacher patted me on the back, “Now you see, you can achieve any goal you set if you possess these qualities.” The story stayed with me, although I was too young to fully comprehend it and not until much later, did I learn the value of those lessons.

In the year 1988, I was selected by the state Engineering college and was offered the chance to study Computer Science. I was delighted. I loved Computers and had heard about Bill Gates and Microsoft. The prospect of Information Technology was alluring, and I imagined myself working for Bill Gates. However, when I enrolled and joined, I was distressed by the utter lack of facilities in the Department. There were few teachers, computers were scarce, the basic textbooks were not available and we even had to Xerox and share the only book at the Library. One day, while visiting my hometown, I approached my old schoolteacher. He was at his desk and smiled broadly when he saw me. After I sat down, I began to complain about, my college, the lack direction in the department and lack of opportunity for the students. I wanted to the best but there was no way out. He listened patiently and waited for me. When I stopped , he leaned forward , looked at me, and said, “Do you know how did Arjuna become the best ?” I shook my head , I did not know. As we were talking, the electricity suddenly went out leaving the room in total darkness. My teacher found a candle, as soon as it was lit , the darkness was gone. Pointing to the candle he was telling me , “It’s just a spark that separates darkness and light. You must decide whether to walk in the dark or turn on your own light.” It was, truly, a lightbulb moment for me. My teacher was telling me that no matter what the situation was I could be the best if I wanted to. As I was leaving, my teacher blessed me, “ Arjuna succeeded because every day he woke up, he practiced for the best. My son, look only at the eye of the bird, each time , every time , all the time.” He , thus instilled in me a set of values which remained guideposts throughout my life.

I moved to the United States in the year 2000 and in the year 2008 , I received the marvelous news I had been waiting for – I was shortlisted by Microsoft. For the final round, I was greeted by the chair of the interview panel, a senior manager who ushered me in. I was making satisfactory progress until I encountered the question, “Why should Microsoft hire you over others?” I was startled by the query as if the hiring decision would be based on my response. I felt like my day of reckoning and I was recalling my English teacher and the story of Arjuna. And then, I don’t know what possessed me , but I did something astoundingly unlikely. I stood up and asked the Interview panel, “Sir can I use a prop ?” The interview chair replied , “Yes you are welcome to use images, a computer , a projector or anything you want.” I went around the desk to the light switch on the wall behind me. I turned the light off. There was complete darkness. Then I switched the light on – the room became bright again. “I strive to be the best”, I began speaking as I returned to the interview desk. “My teacher taught me how and also showed me , how like flipping the switch I needed to practices , prepare and perform each time , every time , all the time” The panel members nodded approvingly; the chair person thanked me for the simple wisdom I had shared and communicated the good news – I was hired.

Each of us carries our own unique message that resonates throughout our lives. It’s there inside each of you. Whether you choose to take your time-out in the quiet of the morning or at night when you hit the sack, reflect upon and ponder ; you will surely find your dream. For me, no one spoke more clearly or more personally than my high school English teacher. My teacher is no more, he passed away a few years back, but a part of him lives with me. I am talking about him not because I want to but because I have to. Dear friends, today I am standing in front of you, with pride in my accomplishments , because I was taught by my teacher to be the best and because he showed me how to do that - each time , every time , all the time.


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© 2019 by Ankur Bora