Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Last Lecture- Living to Tell a Tale





(Randy Pausch with Family)

I would have left the world half accomplished in my life had I not read this book. ‘The Last Lecture’ is the book. Written by Randy Pausch, this book is an after thought by the author after delivering his ‘Last Lecture’ at the Carnegie Mellon University, where he was a Computer Science Professor.

Randy Pausch is not amongst us today. After giving his last lecture before a 400 plus strong audience at the CMU auditorium on 18th September 2007, he left the world on 25th July 2008, leaving his wife Jai and kids, Dylan (5), Logan (2) and Chole (eighteen months) behind.

Pausch was detected suffering from pancreatic cancer and the chance of survival was near to zero. He survived a few surgeries successfully, only to succumb to the metastasizing cancerous cells in his liver, a few months later.

He was a workaholic and a positive thinker. He studied Computer Science at the Brown University, taught in Virginia University for a while and then moved on to the CMU, where he taught for two decades.

Jai came to his life when he was thirty seven years old. Romance followed. Then a dream marriage, then three kids in succession.

Then one fine morning he was diagnosed with terminal cancer in pancreas; devastating news for all who knew Pausch. For a moment, Pausch too was shattered. But he wanted to live his life the way he wanted. And he wanted to tell his children that he loved them a lot.

At CMU, Last Lecture Series is a routine. Senior professors gave lectures about their own life, inspiring the new generation with ideas and facts. The title ‘Last Lecture’ was deemed ominous. So they changed it into ‘Journeys’. When Pausch was invited to give the ‘Journeys’ lecture, he decided to call it his ‘Last Lecture’ because it was his ‘last’ lecture.

Professors tend to go overboard especially when they talk about their own lives. But Pausch had a different idea about his last lecture. He wanted to talk about his dreams that he cherished as a child. He culled snapshots from his album, made them into slides. Using these slides he explained his life; the dreams he cherished, the accomplishments he had, the ideals he adored, the targets he set, the romance he shared….

He asked his friends to videotape the lecture and to make it available to people all over the world through the internet. It was his legacy that he wanted to leave for his children behind.

The ‘Last Lecture’ became a rage in the internet space. Many of my readers must be knowing about it before I knew anything about Randy Pausch. But I want to share it with my readers.

Mails started flooding his inbox, mailbox and study room. Pausch put all of them in a plastic bin. He wanted his children to see how people ‘saw’ their father. He would have done anything in the world to live a day more because he wanted to see his children growing. He did not see that.

The book ‘The Last Lecture’ came after the ‘last’ lecture. Pausch revisits his life in this book, a bit in detail and also he reviews the ‘Last Lecture’ he delivered at the CMU.

With tears trickling down from my eyes and a heart pounding at my rib cage, I read the book. Today I ask all of you to read it, if you have not read it yet.

Randy was born to a Sergent- English teacher couple, who led a Spartan life in Pittsburgh. His parents were doing a lot of charity work and they were pretty strict with their own kids. Hence, Randy grew up with same ideals of his parents- love people, live a meaningful life. You can do it, was his motto.

He was a know-all-type, reading whatever coming to his way. His dream was to visit Disney Land. His ideal hero was Captain Kirk in the Star Trek series. Pausch wanted to create a virtual world.

And he did create a virtual world. At CMU, he became the leader of Virtual Reality experiments. And many of his students became the prominent virtual reality engineers and programmers in Hollywood.

Pausch would do anything to know things. He wanted to experience Zero gravity. At NASA, university students were allowed to experience it. But the professors were not. Finding that the journalists are allowed in the team of students, Pausch resigned from his Faculty position to become a free lance journalist.

Pauschisms are very famous amongst the Pausch followers and fans.

He says, when there is an elephant in the room, introduce it. It will help you tackling the issue.

Go to the fundamentals. Always consider the end user. The moment the end user gets frustrated by the complicated jargon in a product manual, he moves away from the product itself.

To send across this point, he broke several VCRs with sledgehammer.

Always ask, there will be an answer.

Take criticism. Criticism shows that people care for you.

Brick walls are everywhere. But they are not meant for stopping you. They show how much you desire to go across it.
Pausch is quirky at times. So after his marriage, he decided to take his bride home by a hot air balloon. The trip was fun filled in the beginning till the balloon lost control and landed up near a railway track in the suburbs.

His style is unique; crystal clear and direct.

A dying man does not want any frills around his words, especially Randy Pausch, who never bought a pair of clothes unless he felt that the one which he was using had gone threadbare.

This book is a must read. It is not literature. It is life.

I want to thank a woman who ‘introduced’ this book to me. I don’t know who she is.

I was coming back from Mumbai to Delhi. Generally I prefer aisle seats which give me enough freedom to move my body. In this flight neither aisle nor window seats were available. They gave me a middle seat.

In the allotted row, a woman in her late 20s was sitting at the window seat. I sat next to her. After a few minutes, a man in black suite came and sat next to me in the aisle seat. We were soon like a card players.

I took out a book. The girl on my right fished out a book from her bag too. The man on my left put both of us into shame by introducing an apple-book. He has the latest stuff; digital book reader.

When there are three readers in a row, it is very difficult to adjust the body. You need to keep both your hands on the arm-rest. But it is not polite to rub your hands against the hands of your fellow passenger.

Twice her hands touched me. Both the times I made some adjustments to allow her to share the arm rest.

She gave a very polite smile. Then she went back to her book.

I glanced at her book. It had some pictures, which reminded me of Orhan Pamuk’s Istambul or John Berger’s Ways of Seeing. But it was neither.

The cover page of it said ‘The Last Lecture’.

Back home I googled it. Next day I went out to the nearest bookstore to fetch a copy.

I thank that lady for becoming a medium to Randy Pausch.

As an end note, I would like to quote a Pasch maxim on success:

Success is nothing but hard work and it is there when preparation meets opportunity.

3 comments:

LotusEater said...

You had me untill that last bit. It's not very original you know; and it actually goes like this - "luck is when opportunity meets preparedness".
See, you learn something everyday!
cheers

JohnyML said...

Hi Lotus Eater,

thanks...

Last Lecture was an eye opener for me.

As a lover of good writing, I always get carried away...

Once again thank you..

jml

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