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Eminent people talk about what advise they would give their 20-year-old selves
My first stop is former four-time world billiards champion Michael Ferreira. In Ferreira’s air-conditioned den at his house in Bandra, Ricky the Doberman, with sleek brown skin, sleeps languidly under the master’s feet. On the wall on one side is the framed certificate of the Padma Bhushan. And, of course, there is a picture of Ferreira holding the World Billiards championship trophy after his win in Malta in 1983.
In his sixties, Ferreira, who is reclining on a sofa, radiates energy and magnetism. Asked what he would tell his 20-year-self regarding a career, he says, “Follow your heart because it knows your dreams and passions. My dream was to be the best billiards player in the world. And even if there was no money in billiards, I plunged in.”
He has had a highly successful career, so the gamble to concentrate on sport turned out to be right. So what is the philosophy of this champion? “You have to be true to yourself and work hard,” he says. “There are no free lunches in life.”
He gives an example: In some places in India, he says, there is a superstition, that when there is no rain, they bring out a guy to play the flute. “So, in one village, they got two flautists to play,” he says. “So the first fellow played and nothing happened and he stopped. The other fellow said, ‘Let me try.’ So, he played the flute, and played and played some more. And it started raining. The villagers came to him and said, ‘It is astounding that both of you are outstanding flautists. Yet, why is it that when you played, the rains came?’ The flautist replied, ‘I played until it rained.’ So the lesson is simple: you have to keep practising, keep sticking to it. That is what brings success.”
When you talk to Anita Dongre, 42, fashion designer, you get the feeling that she is completely satisfied with her life. Nevertheless, she has advice for her younger self on the choice of career. “By the time you are 20, you should pretty much know what you want to do,” she says. “If you have still not discovered what you want to do, it is not too late. There are a lot of people who have graduated at 20 and later discovered what they wanted to do.”
Even though she has been happily married for 16 years, she has a word of caution about relationships: “When you are in a relationship, and at any time you have some doubts, for heaven’s sake, please wait and don’t take the plunge into marriage.”
One who has plunged the depths of his art for decades is painter Jehangir Sabavala. On the fifth floor balcony of his apartment, off Altamount Road, the view is great: tall buildings all around, the sea on one side and the traffic-clogged road far below, but, surprisingly, there is no breeze. But fans in the balcony help alleviate the sultriness. At 83, Sabavala is a spry man, who smiles easily, speaks softly but clearly, and his politeness is endearing.
On his choice of career, Sabavala says, “As an artist and painter, I would hesitate to tell my twenty-year-old, to plunge in, seeing what a struggle it has been for me. You need an intensity of work and dedication, to achieve a niche in your field, so I would say, ‘Think hard’”.
Earlier, when I had met his daughter, Aasreed, and asked whether she painted, she said, “One painter in the family is enough. It is such a tough profession.” So I ask the tenacious Sabavala his philosophy: “Learn to accept everything in life. If there is a wall, try to find ways to get around the wall, rather than bash through it. Because the wall will always defeat you. You do the best you can, but finally, everything is pre-destined. The older I grow, the more certain I am of this.”
One who has a certainty about him is veteran adman and theatre director Alyque Padamsee. But it is a strange experience to talk to him on the phone. Padamsee is in Kolkata for some work and any question is met by the phrase, ‘Just a minute’, and it would actually be followed by a minute of silence, as he crafted an answer. On what he would tell his 20-year old regarding a career, he says, “I would advise the young Padamsee to look for a career he could fall in love with. Nothing short of that.” On what pitfalls he should avoid, he says, “Pretty women, pretty women, pretty women. Give them your heart but never your wallet.”