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Learning never stops

Setting a PhD from Cornell aside, Rahul Ram went ahead and became part of the most iconic India band reports Pankaj Mullick

education Updated: Aug 04, 2010 09:46 IST
Pankaj Mullick

I don’t think there is any one success mantra. There are probably as many mantras as there are successes. Everybody has to find an approach that suits their personality. But one thing is sure: NOBODY succeeds without doing large amounts of work over a fairly long period of time. (Note that THIS by itself is no guarantee of success! Too many imponderables – social skills, luck, being in the right place at the right time etc).

Early life
I had an extremely happy childhood (almost idyllic, come to think of it), with two warm, loving and supportive parents. They were both academics, and a large part of my moral and ethical ideas were shaped by them, not by actual teaching but by listening to them discuss issues at work. Thus, to be passionate, honest about one’s work, to give credit where it’s due, to work hard at what one loved, to not cheat, steal ideas – these are some of what I picked up unconsciously from them and has definitely helped shape my career.

Tasting success
Musically it was probably winning several competitions for singing in school and college days. Academically, getting into IIT for my MSc, getting amazingly high scores in my GRE and getting a full scholarship to do my PhD at Cornell University (New York). There’s no one personal high point that stands out as viewed from now.

Influences
I have been influenced by many, many people, but again, no one person stands out as having influenced me very strongly to the exclusion or the diminution of others. That’s one of the great things about this world, that there are so many wonderful people in it from whom you can learn so many things. Life is constantly about learning, from anybody, from events, incidents. The learning never stops.

Dedication to work
When I was learning how to play the guitar, I would spend hours practising every day. A musician is always working and also, never working, since work is play! You can get an idea about a song, a tune, anywhere at any time. I remember getting a tune in my head during a crowded DTC bus ride that later became the title track of a serial. On the other hand, we don’t do riyaaz for five to six hours every day the way classical musicians do.

Finding a balance
Time has become my most precious commodity. There seems to be less and less time to spend with family and friends and I really regret this. I also admit to being not very good at time management (can spend hours playing sudoku or even Minesweeper in a mindless way!), and that, I am afraid is the way it’s going to be. Sometimes one can feel (there are) too many demands on one’s time, stretched too thin, and that’s when you have to remind yourself what all this is for. For me, it’s about happiness. I’m a naturally happy soul and want to stay that way, and just chasing after money or “success” is not my goal at all, but to be happy. (No artistic angst for me!)

Dealing with failure
Failure is a constant companion, an old friend, a familiar shape... there’s a Doors song that goes: “I’ve been down so god-dammed long, that it looks like up to me...” Everybody fails; there is no shame to it.

And very often you may not even fail because of your own fault, but because of circumstance. It’s how you deal with it. I deal with it by the simple rule: High standards, low expectations. Work to the best of your ability, but do not raise your expectations too high. The emotional cost of unmet high expectations can be fairly disastrous to your peace of mind. This DOES result in a narrower emotional band, but that’s pretty OK by me.

Pearls of wisdom
I think everybody wants to make it big in life! I actually feel, like I said before, that you should want to be happy, and do whatever it takes to get you there. If making it “big” is what makes you happy, first find out what it is that you are passionate about, since you can only make it big in something you believe in completely. In music, it is also important to be honest and original, and to play/make what YOU want to, not current market trends alone. It is also very important to keep at it for years, since NOBODY becomes big overnight (If they do, by happy chance, they pay a pretty high psychological price!).

Rahul Ram As told to Pankaj Mullick