This Father’s Day, SheThePeople.TV shares some treasured memories, from fathers to their daughters. Excerpts are of letters from Legacy: Letters from Eminent Parents to Their Daughters, by Sudha Menon, with permission from Penguin Random House India.
Prakash Padukone is one of India’s sporting heroes — a badminton player par excellence who has gone on to train India’s top talent. Here is his letter in Legacy, addressed to his daughters, the actor Deepika Padukone and golfer Anisha, where he makes the case for them to live their passions, his hope that they will prove to be game-changers, and his advice to be ready for a reality check.
Dear Deepika, Anisha,
As you stand on the threshold of life’s journey, I want to share with you some lessons that life has taught me.
Decades ago, as a little boy growing up in Bangalore, I started my tryst with badminton, a game that was completely unknown in our country at the time, except in some parts of West and North India. My father, your grandfather Ramesh Padukone, had become fascinated by the game when he lived in Mumbai and introduced it in Bangalore when he relocated there. He took a group of us, young boys, under his wings to teach us the basics, often looking up rule books so that he could impart to us the finer nuances of the game.
Those days there were no stadiums and courts where sportspeople could train without being disturbed. Our badminton court was the marriage hall of the Canara Union bank, near our house in Malleswaram, and it was there that I learnt everything about the game.
Every day, we would wait to see if there was a function in the hall, and if there was none, we would rush there, after school, to play to our hearts’ content. Marriage season in Bangalore often lasted for five to six months and so there were not too many days we could play at a stretch.
Sometimes, it would be just nine to ten days in a month, but we were grateful for even those days.
Looking back, I realize that the most important thing about my childhood and adolescent years was my refusal to complain about my lot in life. I was thankful for the few hours a week we had the opportunity to hit the shuttle back and forth.
In fact, that has possibly been the foundation on which I based my career and my life—the refusal to whinge or whine about anything, even as a child of seven when I first took up the game.
I could have complained about everything—the lack of proper sparring partners, the shortage of practice matches, the unavailability of coaches and fitness trainers, poor infrastructure for training, and so on. But I, in fact a generation of people in the seventies, chose to just accept the conditions that we were presented with and made the best out of them.
And that is what I want to tell you my children, that there is no substitute for perseverance, hard work, determination, and passion for what you choose to do. If you love what you do, nothing else matters—not awards, nor compensation, not even the gratification of seeing your face in newspapers or television.
By the time I was sixteen, I was the national badminton champion. Often the prize for the effort was a candle-stand, a photo-frame, or a wooden plaque.
It was only when I won the All England Championship that the prize-money became significant—£3,000—a huge amount in those days. But that did not distract me from the sheer joy of having been instrumental in putting India on the global map of this game.
In a small way, I think, my winning that championship was the turning point for the game in India and it cleared the way for other champions to come in later.
The success, the name and fame, the Arjuna Award and Padma Shri, were all by-products of my love for the game.
Deepika, we know that you are in the film industry because of your love for it. Early on in life, even as a child of nine or ten, we knew that you were meant for modelling and to be under the arc-lights. You were a natural.
Even so, at eighteen, when you told us that you wanted to shift to Mumbai to pursue a career in modelling, it was hard for us to come to terms with the decision. We felt you were too young and too inexperienced to be alone in a big city, in an industry we knew nothing about.
In the end we decided to let you follow your heart, like my father had taught me all those years ago, as the only way to live fully.
In the sixties, most middle-class families had their sons into engineering or medicine as that guaranteed a secure and stable future. Your uncle, Pradeep, and I were Junior National Champions together, but he pursued his interest n engineering and went off to the US for a career. I, on the other hand, had no intention of going down that path, and I was fortunate that my father gave me the freedom to follow my passion for a game which held very little promise of ever making money. His approval changed the course of my life. Had he forced me, I would have been a miserable, average engineer plodding through life.
When the time came for you to make a decision about your future, we thought it would be cruel to not give our child the opportunity to pursue a dream that she lived and breathed for. If you succeeded, it would make us proud, but even if you didn’t, you would not have any regrets that you did not try. In retrospect, it has turned out to be the best thing we did.
In the last few years, we have seen you mature into a young woman who has her head on her shoulders. Maybe it is a result of the responsibilities that came your way at an early age, but we are proud of the independent, sensible, focused young woman that you have become, a woman who effortlessly manages the things that compete for her attention every day—a demanding career, keeping house, managing the staff, and keeping in touch with family.
Sometimes parents underestimate their children’s capabilities which brings me to my other belief: you can either like what you do or you can be passionate about what you do. If you only like what you do, you will become an average player, but if you love what you do, there is every chance
that you will excel at it. For then, no hardship, no sacrifice will be too much to achieve your goal. Anisha, you want to be a professional golfer and I know you will let nothing come between you and that dream.
At sixteen years of age, when I was representing the country in badminton, I travelled second class and often in unreserved coaches on trains, sitting, eating, and sleeping outside filthy toilets in the train for a couple of days simply so that I could reach the training camp and better my game. I see that passion in you. I don’t know too many young people who work sixteen hours a day and I see that the fruits of that passion are already coming your way.
Deepika, I have learned that you can’t always win in life, that everything you want might not come your way, and events don’t always turn out as you want them to. To win some, you have to lose some. You have to learn to take life’s ups and downs in your stride. Looking back, the amount of effort that I put in my game never varied from the first day till my retirement, regardless of the money, the awards and recognition, winning or losing. Whatever I got in addition to playing was just added bonus.
Even during the toughest times, I focused on what I had, instead of dwelling on what I did not. I had the ability to make the best of the worst circumstances and remain steadfast to my goal. Thus, at the end of my career, I had no regrets, or any desire to ever return to the game, for I knew that I had truly given all to my passion.
Remember how I constantly tell you both about the importance of making your way up in the world without waiting for your parents to pull strings and make things happen for you? I believe it is best for children to work hard to make their dreams come true and to not have things handed to them on a platter. And it makes us immensely proud to see that both of you have followed our counsel and are making things happen for yourself.
When you are home visiting us, Deepika, you make your own bed, clear the table after meals, and sleep on the floor if there are guests at home. At home, you are not a star, and that is because we have taught you to be rooted in reality at all times. Showbiz is about make-believe. Everybody will rush to do things for you and pander to your every desire when you are on top. But the cameras that follow you everywhere will eventually fade and what will remain is the real world. If you occasionally wonder why we refuse to treat you like a star, it is because you are our daughter first and a film star later, and we want you to remember that you have to eventually return to the real world.
Dear Deepika, you are in an industry where there is much negativity, but I hope that you are the game-changer in it. As in every other industry, so too here, there is a place for everyone, and I believe that you don’t have to put anyone down in order to get work. If you can live your life without harming anyone, or talking badly about anyone, you can set an example for others. You might not succeed, you might even risk ridicule, yet continue to refuse to be a part of the
circle of negativity. Strive to generate positivity around you even though you are too new and too small a player to effect a big change. Often you will find people who will lie and say untruths about you, but remember never to retaliate or talk their language. If what they say is untrue, ignore it. And if it is true, use their criticism to improve and transform yourself.
You are in an industry where there’s always going to be big money, but I hope that’s not your only motivation for work. I believe that it is important to try to be the best in whatever you do, regardless of money. Always focus on what you want to become as an individual and empower yourself to reach your goals without distractions. That big car or ‘things’ will follow later.
The things that really matter in life are relationships, honesty, and respect for your parents, and elders. Material success is important, not fundamental to happiness and peace of mind.
I have not always been perfect, but over the years I have learnt to strike a balanced view of life. After a life well lived, what is important to me today is peace of mind and good health. Your health is your most important wealth. Take care of it, nurture it.
I can’t tell you enough about the rejuvenating power of prayers and a little faith. You know it, of course, because offering prayers is a long-standing tradition in our family.
Now that you are a professional with a demanding career, you might not always find the time to accompany us on our annual pilgrimage to Tirupati. Instead, spare a few minutes of your day, even if it is just twenty, to close your eyes and meditate, to think about God and you will see how much
that faith in His power will strengthen you. In the end, when your career is behind you, what remains with you and for you is family, the friends that you have made who will stand by you.
Live a life that is healthy, my children, and one that will allow you to live with your own conscience. Everything else is transient. And remember, no matter what, we are always going to be there for you.