07/11/2014 08:24 GMT | Updated 06/01/2015 05:59 GMT

What You Must, Do it Best!


I grew up in the beautiful south Indian State of Kerala. My school was in the picturesque Katari Bagh area in Cochin (now known as Kochi), in the precincts of the sprawling Southern headquarters of the Indian Navy, by the back waters of the Arabian Sea.


When I graduated from High School, on my last day in School my favorite teacher Mr. Paul, who taught us English, wrote cryptically in my autograph book:

"What you must, do it best!"

That was the last I saw him, which was over three decades back.

Since then life has moved on and I have moved around quite a bit as well - all over India and then almost all over the world. Mr. Paul will be in his mid eighties now, if he is still around.

It was however much later in life that I realized that his parting advice was to work towards self actualization, instead of getting stuck at the level of self esteem. Mr. Paul - a brilliant teacher and a wonderful human being, meant doing things to the best of one's ability.

That autograph book, like many other prized childhood possessions, is now long lost. Memories too have slowly begun to fade. The human mind is after all a palimpsest.

I have however not forgotten Mr. Paul's advice - for, while writing those words in a random page of the autograph book, he had etched each letter deep within me as well.

When I look around me, I am often humbled by my own mediocrity. But then I suppose it is okay for some of us to be 'mediocre', for, not everyone can be exceptional or 'the best'. Beyond a point we are all limited by our capabilities, how so ever hard we may try.

But am I really mediocre? I might well be, if I compared myself with others; if I placed myself against the 'the best in class'. But then why compare with others in the first place?

The important question is, how have I done, when I compare myself with my own 'possible best'? If I am not as good as I can be, surely then I would be 'mediocre'.

If we have done our best, I think at the end of the day we should be content in that knowledge. I suppose that should be the barometer for personal excellence and fulfillment, and not what we have achieved compared to what others have.

And then, as a West African colleague recently remarked during a conversation "we are all 'work in progress', some more than others.... the more we push ourselves, the more we realize our immeasurable potential". Well said.

I have now reached a stage in my career where I am required to mentor colleagues and young professionals, not to mention my own delightful eleven year old daughter, Minnie.

I tell them that inaction is much better than doing sub-standard or poor quality work that is born out of indifference and indolence, engendered by a lack of conviction, lack of sincerity, lack of the sense of personal accountability and finally, the lack of joy in work.

I tell them that it is okay to be 'mediocre', as measured by external performance standards and when compared with others, as long as they are convinced that they have put in their best.

And I have one mantra for them - the same one my teacher passed on to me so many years back.

"What you must, do it best!"

"Push your own limits, realize your true potential and be happy with whatever you achieve out of that. Look around by all means, but more importantly, look within", I try and tell them.

Years have gone and in my memory, the image my teacher has now become blurred by the mists of time. I remember vaguely that he was tall and energetic; bi-spectacled, with a prominent nose, a paunch , a graying hairline; always impeccably dressed, dignified yet engaging, passionate about teaching, polite, humane and a quintessential gentleman.

But then I guess, it really does not matter much if I remember clearly how Mr. Paul looked and how he taught - I might eventually forget almost everything about him. But his message will be there with me till the end and I shall pass it on to my daughter and all those who care to seek it from me.

That will be me my lasting tribute to my teacher.

"What you must, do it best!"





For more travel stories and photographs, you might want to check my personal blog at