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He walks the way of the cross

Mr. N. R. Menon's life is a saga of triumph over adversity. He now tries to alleviate the pains of the despised and condemned. LEELA MENON meets this `motivator'.

FAILURES ARE social rejects, the condemned, and the despised. Especially in the post-SSLC era. But not Mr. N. R. Menon. He seeks out the failures and inspires them to try and try again, like Robert Bruce. Robert Bruce may have become an anachronism to the now-generation, weaned on instant gratification, rejecting repeated attempts.

But Robert Bruce does carry a message! Which Mr. Menon packages differently, attractively, involving students, parents and even teachers. His `Samanwaya' is an eye-opener for those who think that a failure in an examination spells the end to not only academic life but also to social status and future for their offspring.

His area of operations is adolescence and values, especially in education. In this era of crystallised communal identities and its consequent intolerance and violence Mr. Menon preaches the message of love and peace. Though a Hindu by birth Mr. Menon's poem praises Jesus, his paeans saying how easy it is to remember Jesus when the shrapnel of words splits one's heart, when sarcasm and abuses wreathe the way of the cross. Perhaps that is why he assembled the failed students of this SSLC at his Master Coaching Board to give them counselling, to tell them that there is indeed life after a failure, and to inspire them to try again. "Around 40 failed students came to me and I soothed their bruised souls and relit their desire to continue study", he says. The students spanned the rich and the poor.

Himself a handicapped person, with infant polio twisting both his legs, investing him with 50 per cent disability, Mr. Menon's life is a saga of triumph over adversity, getting not only a degree and a postgraduate degree but also a doctorate. He has also obtained a diploma from the Pontifical Council in Rome in Christian Science and Counselling. And all this deserves appreciation when you realise that he drives his own car, manages a happy family, challenging his handicaps.

So, who else can inspire the failures, the dejected, the suicidal but Mr. Menon? Has he not walked the way of the cross, been showered with sarcasm, and discouragement and found the strength to carve out a personality and a future, and leave a mark on society?

Mr. Menon has organised `Samanwaya', an organisation with a team of teachers, religious persons, social workers, psychologists and doctors who work together to go to various schools and impart value education mainly in Ernakulam district. The organisation works free.

"The growing concern over the erosion of essential values and increasing cynicism in society have spotlighted the need for readjustments in the curriculum to make education a forceful tool for cultivation of social and moral values", says the National Policy on Education, crafted in 1986. The Standing Committee on Human Resource Development also concedes in 1996 that, despite various high-powered committees appointed since independence, the results have been disappointing. So `Samanwaya' stepped in, in its own simple ways to handle problem children, to understand the child, give career guidance, and responsible parenting, how to face examination with confidence, how to cultivate unity of faith, and leadership, methods for conflict resolution, combating the menace of drugs drinks and smoking, facing interviews, youth problems and youth and the media. While giving the message that service to man is service to god, `Samanwaya' also teaches how to improve concentration and organisation skills and above all value of life. Not a mean curriculum for a NGO. He tells teachers that service to children is not only for the sake of children but also for their own sake. "Teachers need children as much as they need teachers", Mr. Menon is fond of pointing out. And adding that love can be taught only through love. Mr. Menon emphasises that teachers have the greatest role in moulding the future of the country, that teaching is the noblest of professions (not with hefty tuitions of course).

`Samanwaya' teaches children not to make examination a cause for tension but a thrilling challenge, to learn while they learn, ignoring TV or guests or friends. "Main focus should be on study. Give leave to films and TV", he advises. He tells students to prepare a home timetable and to learn what you dislike more, never postponing for tomorrow what you learn today. There is more advice. Like take time and write well, keep time to determine time for each question, attempt first what you know best, never to leave any question unanswered etc.

Students are many who complain of domestic problems but Mr. Menon's panacea is to shelve problems until the exam, as exam is a `tapas.' He exhorts students to plan the future as, without planning, your future becomes futureless in this age of competition. Effort is the step up to the glass ceiling. Ultimately what it comes down to is `MOTIVATION.' Motivation can turn failures into successes. A message worth imbibing.

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