Updated: Jun 6, 2021
The only writing I do these days, is when I am preparing for a speech I have to deliver as part of my keynote engagements. This however, is an excerpt from my most recent book, Challenge (2018). A book filled with stories from my life. Real events which have helped shape my thoughts and character as I grew up. Lessons which have helped me cope with challenges. Lessons which helped me realise that to deal with a challenge, we need to change. One day I realised that change is an integral part of challenges, all I had to do was drop the LLE - Lame Limiting Excuses!
A little push every morning!
“BOYS! Come on out. I need a little push. It was the winter of 1971, my younger brother was 7, I was 9, and upon hearing our father’s loud call for action, early in the cold morning, my brother and I would jump out of bed, shout “YAY!”, and run out of our home to the driveway. Our father, a dedicated steel plant engineer, would be waiting in his hard hat and steel-toed safety shoes, next to his shell-white secondhand, Fiat 1100 D, which he lovingly called his “Old Faithful.” It was one of those quintessentially Indian cars of that time, with chrome bumpers, hub caps, door handles and semi-circular, half-round metal plates that covered the top part of the headlights.
In December of that year, India had locked horns with neighboring Pakistan in a 13-day war, one of the shortest skirmishes between two nations in recorded history at the time. The government had ordered all vehicles, especially in towns and cities in North India, to have the top half of their headlights covered, so that the light would not be visible to enemy war planes from the sky at night. I recall the usually bright and festive “Diwali,” or “Festival of Lights,” being dark, somber and silent as households were warned not to decorate the outside of homes with lights or oil lamps. We were even advised to have our windows covered with black paper until war was officially declared as over. It was scary, especially for us kids, and we just needed to have faith that all would be well and peace would prevail soon.
Life had to go on and even during war our father had to go to work, and he had to depend on “Old Faithful” to get him to the factory and back. The car had served him well for several years, but now, would not start in the morning, especially during those bitter cold winter months. So our father would sit in the driver’s seat with the window rolled down, and encouragingly shout, “Push! Push! Push!” and my little brother and I would muster all the might in our little bodies, and give the car a mighty push up to the slope at the gate, where it would jerk, the engine sputter, ignite, and our father would be on his way to work, with a gentle “Thank you” toot on the horn.
Our father told us kids that he always had a smile on his face, on his drive to work, knowing that his day had started with a little push from his little boys! This made my brother and I feel good to know that we not only gave our father’s car a push, but more importantly, our father, to help him kick-start his day. We didn’t need a more powerful persuasion than that!
Our father even laughingly told us that our neighbor, Mr. Gupta, often told him, “Mr.Narayan, every morning we would hear you shout PUSH, PUSH, PUSH and looking out our window, we would see your car shaking. It seems like your car is delivering a baby every morning!” And, our father would always respond, “Oh, no, Gupta-ji. Too old for that - the car, not me!” And, they would laugh about it.
One day, a few years later, in 1975, my father received a distressing telegram from his brother in Madras (now Chennai), the capital city of Tamil Nadu, in South India. “MOTHER CRITICAL. COME IMMEDIATELY.” it read. In a bizarre turn of events, my mother had left for her hometown a few days earlier, to attend the funeral of her mother, my maternal grandmother. So, my father hurriedly booked train tickets for the three of us up to Calcutta, from where he decided from where he decided to fly to Madras, which was the shortest and quickest way to get to his destination. My brother and I, not quite teenagers yet, were excited, despite the reason, to be flying on a real airplane for the first time in our lives. Anyway, our father wasn’t being too somber, serious or morose, or was trying to hide his emotions, and actually built up the excitement during our overnight stay at a guesthouse near the airport. The aircraft we flew on was an Indian Airlines, twin-jet “Caravelle,” with triangular windows, possibly novel at that time.
Despite his preoccupied mind, he asked the flight attendant if I could see the cockpit, and after consulting with the pilot, she graciously allowed me to take a look. I was thrilled to bits and remember being awed by what appeared to be a million twinkling red, green and yellow lights, dials, switches and buttons all over the darkened cockpit. The static crackle of communication between the pilot and ATC, was clearly audible and only added to my excitement and experience. “I told you I’d show you a real cockpit in the future, Jai. You remember?” my father remarked, “Now, are you happy?” I was, and let my father know that.
“Dad,” I asked an hour later, “Why is the handle on those exit doors so large with so many warning notices? My father looked at me and started to say, “One day in the future I will show you” but I stopped him saying, “OK, dad. Not that again, I don’t wish to know what happens! As it turned out, to my father’s relief, his mother recovered and was discharged from hospital a week later.
In 1976, at age 40, my father was awarded a UNIDO-sponsored training, supported by the Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL), to work at Brighton’s South Coastal Steel Works, some sixty miles out of London, in the UK, for a few months. We had to reconcile to not having our father at home, particularly on weekends, for what seemed like eternity. The only communication link between us and our father during those months were the periodic letters we would receive from him with a postage stamp bearing the image of Queen Elizabeth on the envelope. When we asked how he managed to settle into his new life and environment, he quipped, with his usual candor, “I live in an apartment on Ladbroke Avenue. I’m not sure that’s a reassuring address for someone trying to make ends meet!”
He recounted how when he was first looking for that address given to him by his landlady, he noticed a lanky man dressed in leather and studs, with bright pink spiked hair and a safety pin dangling from one ear approaching him. “Excuse me, Sir. I’m looking for Ladbroke Avenue, where can I find it?” my father asked him. “Just keep looking man, you’ll find it, that’s life!” came the immediate reply. While initially taken aback by the man’s seemingly rude response, our father told us how he was amused by it, with the realization that there was a deeper meaning to the message if one thought about it.
We often seek immediate solutions to our problems, without really seeking to find the answers within ourselves first.
“Further,” he continued, “Once I’d settled into my apartment or flat, as they call it here, my landlady loaned me her “Hillman Hunter” when needed, which I now drive around London, Brighton and nearby suburbs on weekends. The countryside here is beautiful, and I even manage to play the occasional game of cricket at a local club.”
For us kids, there were few distractions in life in the 70s. We had no TV, computer, Internet, cell phones, or video games. You either played outside if you were of an athletic frame of mind and build, or remained indoors, like I did, if you had an artistic inclination. Moreover, at an early age, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to music. Abba, Boney M, Bee Gees, Carpenters and Donna Summer ruled the radio waves in those years. I would religiously tune-in to Radio Ceylon, the only station playing international music at that time, on my father’s Russian-made, wireless, transistor radio, everyday. Very often, the reception wasn’t good, but I was hooked! Like a numismatic collects coins, especially the hard to find ones, I began to collect the music of all my favorite singers and bands, beginning with 33 RPM LP vinyl records and
in later years, cassette tapes, audio CDs and Blue Ray DVDs.
As it turned out, music would be a constant companion, and what I turned to for distraction and comfort during challenging times in my future.
My biggest disappointment in my late teens was the loss of my new, shiny red, BSA-SLR sports bicycle, which was stolen from virtually under my very nose, one morning. I’d temporarily parked it, unlocked, in our verandah for a few minutes, as I urgently returned home to use the restroom. When I stepped outside again just a few minutes later, my bicycle was gone. I was shattered, as it was my favourite possession, and I even used to ride it to school. When my father returned to India from the UK, seemingly more philosophical than when he’d left, and heard about the theft, he told me,
“Jai, you were fortunate to lose your bicycle only after you’d learned to ride it. You already have acquired the necessary skill that no one can steal from you. You just need to buy another bicycle when you can afford it.”
I guess I must’ve made my parents proud in some way, when in 1978 I was crowned the school chess champion in the inaugural year of inter-class games. Being good at chess was probably a gene I inherited from my father, who was the district champion in his student days. I didn’t realize it then, but I did better at chess, carom and other board games, including table tennis, that required a much narrower focus than field games such as football, cricket, and hockey.
Lame Limiting Excuse 1
I don’t have the energy to do this every day. This is hard.
Lame Limiting Excuse 2
I’m not in the mood - The work I do is so routine and boring.
Life lesson 1
Sometimes, we need to push ourselves to do things before others push us. What we do continuously is hard at first, until it becomes easy when it turns into a habit.
Life lesson 2
Music, books, painting, sports, meditation, or any other recreational activity can help us relax, refresh and rejuvenate our spirits when we’re weighed down with the monotony of routine life.