Founders Corner

Founders Corner

Capt. Preetham Madhukar, Master Mariner, Founder, Program Director and Mentor at Skills Beyond Education and Managing Trustee of Varuna Foundation.

As a 15 year old, in one of the Higginbotham’s book store, he came across a couple of books by Swami Vivekananda – Karma Yoga and Bhakti Yoga – both of which deeply inspired him. Karma Yoga sowed the seeds of Will and he became more aware of his weaknesses and struggles with will. Preetham became more observant of people around him, like his parents, relatives and how people who inspired him behaved and how people with a strong will approach life and so on, more from what he can imbibe in himself rather than any search for a deeper understanding of will.

Later as an 18 year old apprentice at sea, his tasks ranged from mopping decks, painting the ship, doing rope work, maintenance and repairs on the ship and all of this lasted a full year on the ship. He had to report to his mentor at 4 am and would grudgingly start his day and these tasks that were given were without much understanding of inner-will concepts and were simply followed as a hand-me-down process from sailors of old.

He wanted to start learning navigation skills, but one had to pass through the rite-of-passage before they earned that privilege and showed the grit and discipline they had doing these mundane jobs, repairs, working with the crew or the cargo before earning the rights and getting called to the part of navigation team.

His batch mate and he would compete with the rest of the crew to the Olympic standard and compare their work. They realised that their work used to be many X’s better than the crew and lasted much longer as well.

As years went by, Preetham’s observation of WILL in people became more and more, and he would engage in conversation on their training methods, their life stories and compared them with their WILL. People who did certain life process or inner work had different will strength compared to people who had never done any of them, similarly his own will was stronger when he did his will-process and was weaker when he did not follow these processes.

As Captain of the ship, he experimented with the training of cadets, tweaked their will-processes and seeing if this changed their WILL for the better, heard their life stories to understand their background and its effect on their will including observing, discussing with his mentors and his juniors, those who had strong will-forces and even those who had weak-will forces.

All the while he kept collecting these puzzles pieces – i.e. the will-processes for inner-transformation – but he did not know how to use them as a larger process nor was he able to articulate all this properly on why some people had a good will and some didn’t and if something could be done to make them change and so on. This only left him frustrated when he worked with young officers and new-age cadets stuck to digital media and who had been put through poorly designed or forgotten will-process training and who usually turned out unreliable, unworthy, embraced mediocrity and procrastinated among others.

In 2012, he came across the philosophical guidance from Rudolf Steiner and this was a Eureka moment for him – as this clearly showed him the image for the puzzles he had been holding all along. He continued to learn and study more of this philosophy while gathering more understandings from other educational philosophies, work domains including historical and modern thoughts and processes on education, mentoring and will-power whilst still sailing at sea, he enjoyed this learning frontier and working on this singular area of human development and its spill over effect into other areas of our life and personal qualities.

In 2016, he realised that nobody was going to work to on this area of human development and if he needed to see any change then he would have to do it myself. He decided to stop complaining on the poor calibre and mediocrity of people around him and took the plunge into empowering adolescents and young adults. After over 20+ years of sailing on ships, he then decided to hang-up my sailing boots and took up as a core mission on educating, empowering and transforming people in their will and other inner strength qualities and cultivating skills needed to be in the 21st century and started ‘Skills Beyond Education’ to do our core work by bringing great mentoring practices (Gurukul or Apprenticeship style) along with modern thoughts and techniques on education. In the early days, we started off with our flagship program ‘Star Gazing Camp’ which is still quite popular and well received.

With a core understanding of mentoring values and practices, he curated other educational programs like Apprentice Education, Inner-Strength Programs and in all our programs we subtly nudge people to work on one of the 3 realms of WILL (Body-Feeling-Thinking) and also empathise with people in their will-struggles and help them to transform their ‘WILL’.

The journey has only gone stronger for us and in 2019 Varuna Foundation commenced operations to give will-empowerment to people anywhere and everywhere along with bringing Skills Beyond Education’s learning and mentoring programs to the underprivileged and those from rural background.

His role here as the ‘Program Director’ is to empower and guide young adults to direct their own movies of their life with strength, courage and conviction. To share an incident when he was in his 8th grade, he decided to walk out of his house (on some silly and small issue now although was a big deal back then for him, to add to this, he was petrified of his parents) he was scared to voice out his thoughts and feelings to them and they were extremely strict like many parents of that era.

He walked on the road for a while, and thought why was he so scared of them and it made him realise it was his need for basics like food, clothes and shelter and was scared they would throw him out of the house or not provide him with these necessities. He thought if he can get these for himself, there was nothing to be scared of anyone.

He coincidentally saw a bike garage with the mechanic working on a bike and went up to him and asked if he would give him a job and how much he would offer and if he could give him a place to stay. The garage owner pointed out that he could stay with the other boys in the garage itself and informed him of some amount which seemed like a good deal. He told him he will think and come back and left from there to go back home and suddenly his fear had disappeared when he reached home.

When he reached home he was changed and never again was there fear towards his parents, he has lot of respect but not fear. The way he spoke to them had changed, the way he took charge of his life, which school he want to study further, what college he want to go to, what career he wanted to choose, the person to marry were all decisions of courage and made by himself taking charge of his life.

Preetham would consult others for ideas and pitfalls but the principal decisions of his life was always his and he owned his decisions and since then never delegate right of his to direct his movie to anyone else. The key ingredient always was courage and that’s the very thing our schools or parents steal from the children. They don’t let them voice out, express themselves and later wonder why they don’t speak up, express their ideas and dreams and so on.

He observed and interviewed people of great strength and strong individuals and all of them who had overcome their fears and their courage stood as a corner stone of their life and how they decided things or went about their life. There were many more life changing and interesting episodes in his life which he shares during his talks, when engaging with parents and young adults.

Another influencing book that he read in 2005-06 was ‘Deschooling Society’ by Ivan Illich. A turning point for him to start questioning education and reflecting on his own life, decisions he made and on having directed his life since a youngster and what it had done for him and this made him think what could be done about education.

His explorations with alternate schooling was through my son, his interactions with people working in this area of alternate education, his own apprentice style of learning and mentoring. He observed the struggles of alternate education schooling beyond the 8th Grade as they too merged with the main stream education and herded the children to same goal post – board exams and in a way undoing all the good education they had given in the early years of childhood.

These questions, along with his quest for a good alternative, reflections, studies on what makes a good education, meeting up with people from India and abroad to listen to their views and work in educational change made me take up this mission to strive to be at the frontiers of educational research, help individuals strengthen their inner strength to face life challenges, to build skills and knowledge required for the 21st century including life skills and soft skills and most importantly collate great mentoring techniques (old and new) and then find, train, develop, cultivate and sustain a great band of mentors to make any large scale impact to the inner strength of humanity.

While my role as a mentor is similar to that of a ‘Guide’ as one who has walked this path or climbed this mountain of will and inner-strength many times before, struggled with the challenges it has thrown and also helping a few others along the way – ‘a work in progress’ myself and as a student who must also constantly work on his will and inner strength.

He has always prided himself as a practitioner of things with a learning all the time approach rather than a theorist dwelling only in thought, apparently it seems he was good at the latter too.

The teacher and the student are within us and are two sides of the same coin. We keep switching our roles, sometimes every few day, or every day or within the same day. Awaken to this notion that we are all mentors and apprentices at the same time.

Gratitude to all the mentors who have guided us consciously, willingly and sometimes without even being aware that they have mentored us all and to all our apprentices who have given us the opportunity to mentor them.

The journey is long for us and we have nowhere else to go and we intend to continue our mission and to continually strengthen this important human element inner-strength in our self and in others.

Wishing that you awaken into your Will