It was 2006, six years after I gave up my job and was contended teaching in my institute.
I was aware that people thought that I was haughty and had intolerably irritating superiority complex. I, however, considered it their covetousness.
A very good friend of mine, who lives in Pune, telephoned me one fine day and apprised that some Mr. Apte, also from Pune, who was a celebrated motivational speaker and trainer, was conducting a Personality Development workshop at Faridabad.
He insisted that I should attend the workshop. I cited all sorts of excuses; my busy schedule, my parent’s health and other lame and inadequate pretexts. Although it was May, which is comparatively relaxing for teachers, I didn’t want to go as I thought that my personality needed no rectification. Finally, he said that he himself was coming to Delhi for attending it and I would have to accompany him.
I had to agree to oblige him.
It was a three-day workshop in some Motel in Faridabad. The fee was Three thousand eight hundred rupees which I painfully parted with, just for the sake of my friend.
During the introduction at the start, elucidation that among the eighty men present, I had the most humble social status. There were Chief Medical Officers of renowned hospitals, ACP’s of Haryana and Delhi Police, CEOs, highly placed Government Officers and many more.
The rumbling ghost of superiority took a backseat and consented to wait to see what those refined gentlemen had gathered there for.
Post-lunch session was the most significant period for me that really changed my life.
Mr. Apte drew a square on the board with four vertical and four horizontal lines inside it that divided it into smaller squares. He asked the trainees to count the number of squares it had. Some found 16, some 17, few others found 20 while few could see 24 squares in all.
There were multiple answers from the men from various fields.
My answer was 30 which was the highest number of squares anybody had quoted.
Mr. Apte came to me and asked if I was sure. My ego replied to him on my behalf, ‘Yes sir, pretty sure. Actually, I’m a Mathematics Teacher. It's a routine thing for me.’
‘Oh, I see. However, I advise you to recount,’ said Mr. Apte.
‘No Sir, I can't be wrong in this. I dedicate ten hours a day to this subject,’ I said, proudly.
Mr. Apte smirked and asked me to follow him to the podium.
‘Mr. Sharma, we will talk about the squares later. Let’s have a fun exercise before that. And, gentlemen,’ he addressed the others, ‘I’ve chosen him for this exercise because he is a Mathematics teacher.’
He took an A-4 size sheet of paper, held it from two opposite corners and asked me to tear it off with a punch.
As I punched, he withdrew his lower hand foiling my attempt. He asked me to give another try and did the same, letting it loose just before my punch landed on it.
The third attempt failed too. I stood exasperated and exhausted because of the repeated failure.
‘No sir, it will not tear off if you keep doing so,’ I said.
He smiled smugly and looked at me, ‘And you understood that after three blows?’ I sheepishly gazed into his eyes feigning the shame.
He continued, ‘Each blow was fatal than the previous one; enough to knock me down if I had been in the way,’ he paused and smiled and looked on the amused audience, ‘Actually, Mr. Sharma, you had realized that right after the first hit. However, your ego forbade you to accept failure so early. It stopped you to concede defeat even though you knew it was impossible. You thought that I might not do it the second time.’
I wanted to run away from the hall. He had not finished, ‘And coming back to the count of squares, I can prove that there are more than thirty squares in it and Mr. Sharma, mind you, it’s not my routine job.’
My arrogant mind still was not ready to accede to his challenging my knowledge of mathematics. Nevertheless, I decided to hear him patiently. I didn’t want more embarrassment.
He said, ‘Count all the squares including the black outline and then count them leaving the outline. That would double the number of squares that you counted.’
Mr. Apte placed his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘Mr. Sharma, there will always be something more to learn. Remember improvement has no finishing line.’
Years after the incident, I always try to keep my ego in check and still trying to be a better human being.
Thank you, Mr. Apte, for the valuable lesson you taught.