At a city programme, cueist Geet Sethi says concentration is the main ingredient for success
Geet Sethi looks absolutely fit, and every bit focussed. He is taking on a different challenge, and though the pressure is not immense, he is a picture of concentration. It’s the TiE Chennai Enterpreneur Awards 2012 at Park Hyatt Regency, and Sethi, invited as the guest of honour, is taking questions from Pravin Shekar.
When asked how he juggled so many hats (besides playing professional billiards and amateur snooker, Sethi runs a travel company that straddles Mumbai and Ahmedabad, and is engaged in a venture that nurtures Indian sportspersons with Olympic medal-winning potential), the master cueist picks concentration as the main ingredient of his success. Concentration is the common thread tying his multifarious pursuits.
“When I’m helping my wife (a graphic designer from NID, Kiran Sethi has started a massive children-empowerment programme, Design For Change, that is now present in 35 countries), I’m right there. When I am at the billiards table, I just see three balls. I forget the wife and the kids.”
To further explain how focus holds the key, Sethi recalled a testing period. Following a purple patch from 1985 to 1988 —when he won the Indian National Billiards Championship as well as the Indian National Snooker Championships four times in a row and took the IBSF World Amatuer Billiards Championships title in 1985 and again in 1987 — his game suddenly collapsed. He went back to the drawing board and discovered a faulty technique, one he has been playing with since 1974. To compensate for the primary fault — an incorrect bridge hand — he had adopted other faulty methods. Altogether, he had a combination of five faults. “When you have a copybook style, you have a frame of reference. When something goes wrong, you can easily figure out how to rectify it by looking at the frame of reference,” he says. But his game being based on a faulty technique, encrusted with other defective methods, he could not do that. De-learning was the only solution.
In an effort to free his game of this death grip, he went to the coaches, talked to Steve Davis, and did everything possible. He practised 18 hours a day, working on his technique.
Years of practise
“I’d wake up at 2 a.m., because something about my game would have struck me. For around three years, I was in danger of touching insanity,” says Sethi. In 1992, he perfected his technique. “With the new technique, I went on to win seven world titles,” he says. What he learnt from this episode: when things go wrong, you have to introspect, be willing to change, and, most importantly, swallow your pride and go to people.
Asked about the ease with which he picks up new goals, Sethi explains that a chorus of a million causes out there is too loud for anyone to ignore. We just have to pause and listen to the causes waiting to be taken. Olympic Gold Quest (OGQ), which he founded in 2001 together with Prakash Padukone to improve the chances of Indian sportsmen in the Olympics, taught him what it really means to take up a cause. Between 1998 and 2001, Sethi lambasted the Government about its lackadaisical attitude towards these sportsmen. By his own admission, no good came out of this offensive. He realised causes are won by working on them and not just talking about them. In 2001, he approached Prakash, and the initiative was born. To explain how fulfilling OGQ is, Sethi says, “The emotion involved with the flag going up — think about it! Only the President and an Indian athlete has the power to lift it up!”
On how friends and family have contributed to his success, Sethi gives a pithy answer: “They kept me grounded.”
He speaks of an insidious process that success sets in motion. When someone tastes success, a bit of fame and money follows. From being comfortable travelling third-class in a train sitting next to the toilet (which Sethi did, when he took part in his first billiards competitive tournament as a junior), he cries hoarse if denied flying first-class.
At such times, it does not help to have sychophants around. For his own good, everyone needs friends and family that are brutally honest with him, tearing him to pieces when he does something wrong.
In an indirect manner, Sethi’s father taught him the necessity of staying humble at all times. After a 15-year-old Sethi returned home with his first big title and trophy, his father showered him with praises. However, the accolade was soon followed by a gentle command — “Beta (son), polish my shoes!” Sethi complied.
Every time the young Sethi returned home a victor, his father would praise him to the heavens and then ask him to perform a menial task.
Sethi is thankful his dad gave him that practical lesson in humility.