I remember going to a poor school in Mumbai. But that poor school had rich teachers. I remember Principal Bhave, who taught us physics. Today’s children have this ‘Book vs. Look’ problem, since they are so overburdened that they don’t have time to look around. Principal Bhave emphasised the ‘look’ part of it. I remember his taking us out in to the sun to demonstrate as to how to find the focal length of a convex lens. He took a piece of paper, moved the lens till the brightest spot emerged on the paper, and told us that the distance between the paper and the lens was the focal length. But then he held it on for some time and the paper burnt. For some reason, he turned to me and said “Mashelkar, if you can focus your energies like this and not diffuse them, you can burn anything in the world !” I was so impressed with the power of science that I decided to become a scientist. But that experiment gave me the philosophy of life too; ‘focus and you will achieve’.
I had narrated this story, when I laid out my ‘New Panchsheel for the New Millennium’ in the 87th Indian Science Congress, Pune on 3rd January 2000. Shortly after my speech, which was presided over by the Prime Minister of India, Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, we had a lunch together. Around the table were two nobel laureates also. This story had touched everyone’s heart. A discussion started on the role of teachers in nation building. I was sitting next to the Prime Minister. He asked me, ‘Do you know, why are there no more Bhaves?’. I said, ‘No Sir’. He said ‘Because they are not respected’ by our society. It should set all of us thinking. We say ‘ ‘. But in practice, we do not give the teachers, who build the nation, a respect. How can we build then the resurgent India of our dreams?
Incidentally, the deep rooted message in ‘focus and you will achieve’ is worth repeating in our national context too. Focussing means coming together, working for a common goal. It means becoming a ‘Team India’. Are we doing it? No.
The differences of castes, creed and culture are dividing us today like at no other time in our history. We must shed all these differences and ‘focus’ on doing only one thing. Building a great nation, which will be recapture its leadership role again in the twenty first century, just as it had done millennia ago.