Thursday, May 13, 2010


Randy Pausch’s “The Last Lecture” is a popular book but as I read the back cover, I wondered, with all due respect, if it’d be anything more than mere sentimental rumination… a dying man’s last words… a desperate attempt to defy death and live, even if only through his book. But I was wrong. The book’s breezy, reflective, touching without ever approaching sentimentality, and above all, it gleams bright with passion and a profound thoughts. Maybe you’ve read this book already and if so, you’d know what I have to share, so go ahead, turn the page… I won’t feel bad for you’ve already read something far better than what I might have to offer today… but if you haven’t, stay with me for a while. This isn’t a book review but an attempt to share the great wisdom in those pages, born of the knowledge that our time is limited, very limited.

Randy Pausch was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2006. It’s not that this cancer can’t be defeated, but you definitely shouldn’t bet on the odds. Randy, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon was given a maximum of six months “of good health”. Randy was 46 -years- old, with a beautiful wife and three adorable children, the youngest barely a year old. He just wasn’t ready to check out just yet. There was so much left to do. But now, he wouldn’t be there. He wanted his kids to know him, to remember him and above all to understand him, but he didn’t know how to leave behind a legacy that mattered, at least to his children.

Around that time, Carnegie Mellon invited Randy to speak as a part of the “Last Lecture” series at the University. Andy recognised the prophetic nature of the title and how it could be his way of leaving behind a legacy for his children (the lectures were videotaped), doing what he loved doing - teaching. Therefore, despite his medical condition, the considerable demands on his extremely limited time which was never going to be enough to set things in order for his family in the event of his passing and his weakened state following chemotherapy, Randy agreed. That lecture (it’s on YouTube) was also the foundation for the book and here’s why it seems to make so much sense to hear a dying man talk… for in the arms of death, life assumes new meaning. Here are a few highlights from the book…

The man in the convertible: After being diagnosed with cancer, Randy happened to receive an email from Robbee, a colleague. She’d written about this guy she happened to be driving behind the other day. It was a beautiful day and this man was in his convertible, his arm resting on the driver’s window, his fingers drumming up a rhythm in tune with the car-radio. With the wind in his hair and the music in his ears, this man seemed truly happy, soaking in the beauty of this gorgeous moment in time. Robbee followed the convertible round the corner and was shocked to see that the man in the convertible with that contented smile on his lips was Randy himself, her dying colleague. “You can never know how much that glimpse of you made my day, reminding me what life’s all about” she’d said.

At another point in the book, before heading out with his wife Jai for his quarterly post surgery check-up to see if the cancer had returned, Randy and his wife went to a water park. After a few rides, Randy held Jai and had said, “even if the results are bad tomorrow, I want you to know that it feels great to be here today, alive with you. Whatever the scans, I’m not going to die… the next day, or the day after that. So today, right now… this is a wonderful day.” Soda in the backseat: At another point in the book, Randy speaks of his sister’s children. Chris and Laura loved Uncle Randy. When Randy bought his convertible, he picked up the kids, both under 10 at the time, for a drive. Their mother warned the kids about not making a mess in the car. And what did Uncle Randy do? While mamma spoke, he opened a can of Soda and poured it all along the cloth seats in the rear. That was his way of saying that his nephew and his niece, people he loved, were far more important than his brand new car. The kids wouldn’t dirty it on purpose but now they could at least be themselves.

There was a lesson in it for me. Recently, we’d bought a car and my wife and I had taken my eight-year-old nephew and his friends for a drive. Now in trying to peer out through the sun-roof, the kids inadvertently stood on the seats and as I saw them mark the beige seats with their muddy shoes, for a split second I’d wanted to stop them, but I didn’t have the heart to. But the stained seats continued to rankle long after, until I read this book… ‘things, no matter how precious are not people, and it is people who are important… who matter’. I hope to remember that… always. When the lecture ended, Randy hugged his wife and she whispered in his ears “Please don’t die.” But Randy did die. On 25th July 2008, Randy Pausch, 47, nine months after his “Last Lecture” that continues to inspire and educate millions, passed away.

Thank you for the “Last Lecture” Randy… still clapping for you!


1 comment:

  1. Dear Proshanto-boss ,everyone reads , somebody digest,a few can take out the flavour,very few can express it properly : you are in the last catagory.Everytime I visit your blog I feel you are great. Keep it up !!! Keep writing to educate some ediots like me , who care for you and perhaps loves you at the core !!! : Ashim Mishra : :+91 987 1571 554