There was this Russian movie I watched about a million years ago. That was the time the Indo-Soviet collaboration was at a dizzying peak – remember the “Festival of the USSR in India”? Yes, those times. Those unreal, exciting times when cool Russians walked down the streets in small town Trivandrum amidst wide-eyed naatukar, and you got to enjoy their amazing (read, eye-bulging) performances every evening for a week or so as they travelled from city to city. Remember the breath-taking Swan Lake? Remember the graceful Cossack dances? I had never before seen such perfection and coordination in any dance form. Their magicians performed unbelievable tricks I thought no one else in the world knew. I dreamed of nothing else for months afterward. That was (I believe) the first time I got to watch real foreign movies (we never considered English movies as foreign) dubbed into English. Amazing times.

As I was saying. This Russian movie was titled “The Great Space Journey”* (unfortunately, I cannot find a proper mention of it anywhere on the Net, and I do not know its Russian title), in which a group of kids go on a space trip. There is only one adult with them, but he stays away from them and when they need urgent help, they find him reading a book. He says, go and solve your problems yourself. At least I guess that’s what he said. (I knew English a little more than I knew Russian, if you know what I mean.) So the kids go on to solve their problems themselves.

The point is, even though the man did not really say anything to help them, he did help them. Maybe just the fact that he was behind those doors was enough to give them confidence. When he didn’t seem worried, their fears vanished. Maybe when he said, solve it yourself, he was actually telling them, You can do it. Try once more.

Everybody needs a mentor, you know. Even if he does not call himself your mentor, you know when someone is. Even if he isn’t with you every step of the way, if you know he is around, your confidence soars sky high. Even in his absence you feel his support, intentional or not.

Without a person like that, sometimes you stray too much off the path. You may find your way back to the highway and learn a few odd short-cuts along the way, but you also run the risk of losing faith in yourself and giving up. Just because you are alone, disoriented and confused. And lost. You ask yourself, Where in the world am I? What in the world have I got myself into? You need someone other than yourself to say “Keep going. Try once more.” Those words make you feel that the highway is perhaps right across that turning half a kilometre away, just out of sight. Your mentor might know, you think, which he why he asks you to keep going. He knows I am close. You are aware that he doesn’t know everything either, but you tell yourself, as long as he doesn’t give up, I won’t either.

Your friends encourage you to keep going, too. But the difference is enormous when someone with authority, with experience, with knowledge, with confidence speaks up. Or doesn’t.

You don’t want him to point out the road to you. You don’t want him to say, “Go North, cross the field, scale the fence.” You can find your way, you can cut your own path. You can bear hardships and you can take disappointments and you can survive frustration. But sometimes you need a hand on your back, albeit for a second, to keep you from falling, a gentle touch that gives strength back to your body and courage back to your fraying nerves. He may read a book, or ignore you, or yell at you to leave him alone, but as long as he is around, you keep trudging.

You may never find the highway, but that’s okay. As long as you don’t give up and you “keep going”, you may find a beautiful farmhouse and decide to settle down… or whatever that makes you happy.

Sometimes, all you need to get to the other side of the night is to hear someone – and not just anyone – advise you directly or otherwise to Keep going, try once more.

* Update: The movie’s correct title is The Great Space Voyage, no wonder I did not find any mention anywhere. A friend found it for me.