Guest column

Lessons from a father and a teacher

This Father’s Day, a chance encounter at the railway station got me thinking about the things my father has practised, taught and passed on to his students and children

Lessons from a father and a teacher

GUL PANAG

A few days back, I was in Himachal Pradesh waiting for the train at the Kandaghat railway station with my son when a gentleman, either an ex-serviceman or a serving officer (obvious to me from his carriage and bearing), walked up to me and enquired if I was General Panag’s daughter. Considering that I was wearing a mask, I was a little surprised, but, of course, admitted to being guilty as charged. This is quite a routine occurrence — to be approached as my father’s daughter.

The officer went on to tell me that he was my father’s student in the Indian Military Academy (IMA), and later again at Staff College, and that he holds dear all that he learnt from him. Customary pleasantries exchanged, we said goodbye.

My father has spent a significant part of his 40-year military career teaching as an instructor, something I, as a child, knew at the back of my mind, but didn’t actively reflect on. This Father’s Day, and that chance encounter at the railway station, got me thinking about the things my father has practised, taught and passed on to his students and, of course, to his children.

Here are some key learnings that I endeavour to imbibe, and that have resonated over many such chance encounters with his former students:

Making a point without making an enemy. This is an important skill to have in order to navigate fragile egos while still being able to make a difference. My father didn’t rise to the top of his profession by being a ‘yes man’. But the fact that he did get as far as he did while continuing to call a spade a spade is something to learn from. Even today, he continues to do the same, actively engaging with those he disagrees with on social media — with a dose of wit thrown in.

Intellectual pursuit — over and above the perceived job requirement. The only way to grow is to learn more and read more, especially when most around you will point out the redundancy of the additional effort, given that things appear to be on track. This is the reason I have continued academic pursuits, along with my professional commitments.

Physical fitness. The one tool that one has to live life to the fullest with is one’s body — be it pursuing a sport, or simply moving with ease in one’s younger years and without pain in later years. Many of us don’t devote adequate time, energy and resources towards the pursuit of physical fitness — only to pay for it dearly later. Physical fitness isn’t just about physique. It’s an outcome of critical character traits — discipline, consistency, commitment and perseverance — that are essential for a fulfilling life.

Raise the bar higher. Be highly competitive but ultimately strive to compete with your own self. As Ernest Hemingway said, “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”

Say the right thing, even if it’s unpopular. Especially when it’s unpopular. When in doubt about how to conduct yourself, always choose to be a role model because you never know who may be watching and getting influenced. Speaking up for what you believe in is very important, especially in times like these.

Never compromise on integrity. Integrity is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. And there’s really no room for grey in this regard. Because it’s not others that you do it for. You must maintain the highest standards of integrity so that you can look yourself in the eye.

Always apologise when wrong. It’s not easy to eat crow and admit a mistake or an error of judgment, especially when one is perceived to be successful or a ‘rising star’. However, I’ve seen my father do this over the years, and he continues to do so. Although such admissions to his children, understandably, are cloaked in sermons!

This Father’s Day, I thought I’d share some learnings from my father that have shaped the person that I am. I do have a long way to go.

Papa, I know you’re reading this, and I’d like to say that it is my constant endeavour to live up to your ideals. Thank you for being a true role model. I constantly strive to achieve the high standards set by you.

Salute.

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