A tribute to mentors

Amal Chatterjee
9 min readSep 1, 2018

Source : Google photo

Synopsis : We all need help sometime in our life because no one is truly self made. It starts with the parents who give you the most help but there are many others who may notice your potential and give you the help you need to achieve success. They are the true mentors whom I pay tribute to in this blog.

We have all felt the need of a helping hand to stand upon our own feet. At first it is the parents who play the role of mentors in our early life. They feed us, take care of us when sick, get clothes and shoes for us and pay for our school fees and supplies. But much more than that, they help us learn certain values be they moral or otherwise to imprint it on our brain so that a firm base for the development of personal character is laid.

Some call it the brain washing that some people take to extreme and turn out zealots and fanatics who later become a menace to the society but mostly the so called brain washing is benign in nature if it is done with the aim of teaching good values that help a child develop into a normal and decent adult later on with empathy for others, tolerance for all and who learns to live an honest life.

So the mentors play an important role in everyone’s life at a certain period the result of which can be seen in the growth of a child into an adult with admirable qualities appreciated by everyone like humility, empathy, respect for elders especially the parents, a sense of responsibility toward his siblings and the community in general, a sense of loyalty and a deep sense of duty.

This sense of duty propels the person to take care of his ageing parents and siblings, care and share with others his blessings, feel patriotism and help those in need. He or she in turn becomes a mentor to others.

This is how a civilized society works or is supposed to work but often we see that in reality it does not work out that way for many people because we as humans are not perfect and have our own problems that we often fail to solve before we can become mentors to others.

We see this in broken homes where people cannot cope with their pecuniary problems of daily existence because of their limited job opportunities, limited social support from their government, low education and lacking basic employable skills plus a host of other issues prevalent in the communities where they live. We see this in millions of homes that fail to provide the basic necessities to their children yet keep on breeding to compound their problems. We see this in the slums that fester like sores at the outskirts of every city in poorer countries but also in not so poor ones where mere subsistence is their priority so mentoring someone is far from their preoccupation of the struggle for survival.

But mentoring does not only mean taking care of someone like the parents do but it is more than that. It is like taking someone under your wings and guide him toward a better future. So your primary school teacher becomes your mentor who teaches you how to write beautifully, checks your homework meticulously and spots a talent in a child that he then promotes. It can be the artistic talent or a natural ability to sing or play a musical instrument or show interest in difficult subjects like math and science.

Many mentors help a talented child to develop aspirations to go further and find opportunities to do so. Some help a child become athlete or musician or artist by enrolling them into competition.

Source : Google photo

In the movie The karate kid, Mr. Miyagi took the young boy who was being bullied in his school to learn karate from him so trained him hard to become a champion later on. That is the kind of mentor-ship I am writing about today. It often comes from people who are not your parents but who live in your community and come forward to give you the helping hand when you need the most.

Someone saw the fighting talent in young Rocky Balboa and came to train him as a champion boxer in the movie Rocky played by Sylvester Stallone. I was blessed to know many people who in their own ways became my mentors and left an imprint in my life that made me what I am today so I remember them gratefully in my blogs like Forming habits.

There was one person who used to give me English books of Rider Haggard to read when I was very young and did not understand English so well. He said to me that at first it may be a bit difficult to understand but I will develop the reading habit this way and will gradually expand my vocabulary. He was I think my first mentor. He is dead now but lovingly remembered.

My father saw that I could draw well so he encouraged me to take part in a competition for children. I did not win but I was grateful for his support. Later when I did win a prize and my name appeared in the newspaper, it was my father who was so proud. He also encouraged me to write to him in English when I was away from home. I loved his beautifully written letters to me and knew that he was so smart.

My mother was also my mentor because I learned how to be self-reliant at an early age when she taught me many things around the house like how to grind salt or spices properly using the stone grinder or how to grate green mangoes to make pickles and numerous other such skills. I used to sit by her side and threaded her needle with colored threads for her cross stitch work and counted 11 threads each time. It taught me to be meticulous.

The beauty of a real mentor is in his or her methods that seem to be effortless on their part but had profound effect that I did not realize until I was much older. We are an accumulation of lifelong experiences, some good and some bad and hopefully learn something out of them. We tend to remember the good ones and ignore the bad ones but also learn to avoid the bad experiences.

A mentor guides you toward the road to success and shows you the pitfalls along the way that discourage many. Someone said that in scientific research we always learn from failures as well as successes because the failures often point you in the right direction so we all get used to some hard knocks in life that make us more resilient.

Often a mentor gets upset when you fail to follow him and may use harsh words to shape you up because you lack resolve. I remember a TV episode of a retired teacher who was a well-known botanist but went to the mountains to live where she met a young boy. She learned that the boy was from a poor family but very smart so she gave her botany books and illustrated albums to teach the boy about plants. She took him on a tour through the hills to show him different plants and their characteristics.

When the boy showed a lack of spirit to learn because his parents could not afford to send him to a good school, she got angry and scolded the boy for not accepting her books.

A mentor puts a great deal of faith in a person whom he mentors because something tells him that the person has some potential and needs encouragement. A school teacher spends a great deal of time with a student and observes him or her much more than some parents so learns about his strength and weakness.

Often parents push their children in a direction of their own making like they may want their son to be a doctor or an engineer even if he does not show any aptitude or interest for it. A mentor knows the interest of the person and encourages it. That is the big difference.

It took a sharp eyed school teacher to spot the incredible artistic ability in a child who was laughed at and bullied by his classmates just because he was autistic. Even his parents did not know how to handle him so the child was always sad and withdrawn but his new teacher was so gentle with him and encouraged to draw and paint. He easily won the art contest organized by the school and his painting was chosen as the cover of the annual magazine. It is a beautiful movie called Tare jamin par ( Stars on the ground) starring Amir Khan and is worth watching. There you will learn a lot about mentoring. I include here the link to the movie for you to enjoy.

I was guided by a famous scientist who saw my rice experiments one day that was not doing well and said that excuses even if valid do not impress people. Only success does so he gave me the opportunity to work with farmers. I had a lot of experience in working with farmers in other countries so I happily got on with it like duck to water and produced excellent result. He was a true mentor who knew about my strength and put it to good use.

This is the key. A mentor uses the strength of a person and ignores his weaknesses. He always says — you can do better than this.

I remember one incident in my high school class of geography when one day our teacher asked me who had drawn the maps in my homework notebook. When I said that I had drawn it, he did not believe me and asked if I had brothers and sisters who were in college. I said yes, my brother was in college and taking up geography in his Masteral class. This convinced our teacher that it was my brother who had drawn the maps so professionally and hit my hand with a ruler that really hurt. I did not cry and was very indignant because I was telling the truth but the teacher still could not believe me so I took a chalk and asked him to name a country that I would then draw the map of freehand on the blackboard.

He asked me to draw the map of Italy which I promptly drew almost to scale and showed all the major cities and the Alps in the north as well as the plains of Lombardy and the cities in Sicily. That made his jaws drop but he told everyone later that I was his best student.

A mentor does not disbelieve a person a priori and puts his faith in a person. Some of my mentors became my lifelong supporters and always answered my letters to them no matter where I was in the world. It became a beautiful relationship that lasted until they died. I miss them terribly.

The time we all get to spend in this world is precious and fleeting. It passes so quickly that most people do not realize how precious and fleeting until it is gone. It is therefore imperative that we make the most of it while it lasts and take every opportunity that may come our way to reach our true potential.

It is also important that we in our turn give back to the society what we received and much more than what we received so it becomes a duty, nay an obligation to mentor someone who is meek and humble but like a rough cut diamond that needs faceting and polishing.

So be a mentor to someone and give him or her the helping hand.

Note : My blogs are also available in French, Spanish, German and Japanese languages at the following links :

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