Legacy of a great teacher

School days are the golden days of our life. They symbolise the days of our carefree childhood, outwardly impossible dreams, sharing tiffins, those funny chalk-drawing of the teachers on the blackboard or hitting each other with pieces of chalks. But, the ‘golden days’ become the haunting days for many of us because of the ‘bad’ experiences one faces in school in terms of bullying, humiliation by teachers or discouragement.

Sadly, in the ‘career options’ in India, teaching is supposed to be the ‘last choice’. If you haven’t made it anywhere then you choose teaching. Most of the teachers are there not by choice but by ‘no alternative’. And that’s why our schools are filled with teachers who are not proud of their profession or committed to their students, rather the very profession itself remind them of their failure. This is a bitter truth. And this inferiority leads to another evil — Discrimination.

I had once a social science teacher in class 8th, and she had this particular bias towards students who were fair and pretty looking. One may dismiss this as fancy of a child’s mind, but as was often the case, the teacher would never reprimand the class monitor who happened to be one of those ‘wanted’ girls in our section, while another girl, a dark complexioned malnourished girl Sarita was known to be the punching bag of that teacher whenever she was angry at something. Not only this, she was also too kind with students who were from affluent classes or who carried imported school bags and bottle or brought pastries and french cookies in their tiffin-box.

A good teacher is a like a god gift, he is like that chef who brings out the flavour in a dish by minding the right proportion, making the right combinations and adjusting the right heat. It is all there, your talent, your potential and your weaknesses, but it is only a good teacher, your guide, who will turn the weaknesses into strength and a talent into an asset. So many times it happens that we see an astronomer or a Councillor or some other successful professional and wonder, ‘Wow this could have been me, only if I had the right guidance’. Yes, I wanted to be an archaeologist, or a social scientist, or an anthropologist, or an administrator, the wishes are endless.

I chanced to read an article about Indian-origin scientist, ecologist and ornithologist – late Navjot Sodhi. Recently, a bird species, first seen in Sulawesi, Indonesia was named after him, ‘Muscicapa sodhii’.

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      As I read further, I was surprised to find that not only this species but many other animal species were named after this great scientist; and he didn’t discover all of them but still they were named after them by his students or collaborators whom he had mentored or taught. This shows what important role Sodhi played in the career of his students. One of his students recalls his mentoring style: He was easily the coolest and the most ‘laid-back’ professor we knew. His mentoring style was just as unique. ‘I don’t care if you danced naked, as long as you get the job done’, was what he used to tell students. Many of his former students have gone on to make successful careers in conservation and Sodhi continued to advise and support their careers. He was like an Academic father to his students.

I was really enthralled by this wonderful but ‘rare’ bond between a teacher and his students. Teaching is no less than philanthropy, it is a complete surrender. You just cannot be a true teacher if you don’t give yourself wholeheartedly to the duty. Yes ‘DUTY’ not ‘profession’. But for many (teachers) it is just a target-based exercise. Focus is on getting the high-percentile, making them cram-up those set-notes which they are dictating year-after-year from that personal diary with yellowing pages. Very few try any innovation. Either they are ignorant or a fool for not knowing the power of this most far-reaching tool — Education. If a box-office hit can create a cult following of a movie star, then imagine how deep an impact a teacher can leave on his pupils with his methods of study and ‘approachability’. Not only that, he has the rawest element at his disposal — the young and uncorrupted minds. And that’s why School teachers play a more important role than the College professors.

The expenditure on countless government employment schemes, food-security programmes, health schemes, anti-criminal measures can be saved once and for all if every teacher, from day 1, starts performing his duties selflessly.

It is not that a person is successful because he has more talent than you….maybe he had a better teacher than yours.

Like a Soaring Kite

        HappyWomanOnBikeArmsUp-850x400   From childhood days I have associated cycling with freedom. I long for those days when we rode crazily on slopes, eyes tightly shut, hands flying to the sides and nostrils breathing in the fresh air. We were like soaring kites and with every gush of wind our spirits rose higher and higher. The fun continued in college days too, riding my black Street-Cat I was Asha Parekh in my own reverie. Upon marriage my bicycle, which had witnessed those carefree days, was given away to the Helper, on which he brought vegetables and eggs. And I learnt the most essential ‘virtue’ which is mandatory for any fauji wife, in fact any wife’s survival    – to demand.    So I demanded for a vehicle when I needed to go anywhere, I demanded when there was a ladies club meet, I demanded when I had to pick up matching churidar for my red kurta from the market and some days when these demands were not met, I demanded my ever-busy husband to ferry me to the place and back. So that is the story behind how wives became so demanding. But in reality, I was reduced to a person in wheel-chair. Tasks which earlier I used to so effortlessly fulfill with just few pushes of paddle, now required cycles of demand and wait. Yes there was the option of driving car. But as everyone knows, a man may trust his new wife, but he can never trust his new wife with his car. I am not at all exaggerating. For first two years of our marriage, whenever I used to open the passenger side door to get down from the car, he would say, ‘Be careful!’ When it happened for the first time, my heart was overwhelmed, but before I could get the chance to blush with sentiments, he added, ‘don’t bang it on pavement’. And I tell you there is no fun in it, it is like riding in a cage, windows all rolled up to block the pollution and somebody else wheeling the steering, you are literally taken for a ride. You don’t feel the air in your hair, do not enjoy the rhythm of your limbs as they move with the momentum and do not get that rise of spirits as you smile as if kissing the air. It is not that I don’t get to ride bicycle. I do, but my point here is to extend the cycling from recreational activity to a utilitarian activity. I know it is a wishful thinking, but imagine the big difference it will make if we start doing our day to day chores on cycle, at least within a manageable radius. In an average middle-class family, daily fuel consumption is so high. First the Man’s up-down to office, then the kids up-down to school, market, friend’s place and then the lady’s visits to office, parlour, tailor, mall, etc. Believe me, there is a huge market conspiracy. First they give fat cheques to people and then they open fast and fatty food eating joints because poor fellow has no time to cook for himself. And when he gets fat like his pay-cheque, they open the health spas, gyms. So whatever one earns, spends it then and there. All these problems have only one solution…yes bicycle. It will be like our personal gym. Minimum maintenance, maximum benefits. I know, to many I may sound utopian. But this is quite possible. There is a wrong prejudice that in well-off classes, only young people, preferably males, ride bicycles and that too for sports activity. No it is not so. In advanced countries like The Netherlands, it is a common sight to see a middle aged woman going for her regular grocery shopping with her kid hopped in the front seat of her cycle and the other one trailing behind in a cozy buggy attached to the cycle. And that’s why many people there don’t own car, not because they can’t afford it but because they don’t feel the need for it. Yes we are a way behind from that level. For that we need integration of cycling with public transport and pro-cycling government policies. And frankly, the only visible support I have seen from political parties till date is from Samajwadi party which has bicycle as its party symbol. But we can at least take first steps, like making use of cycle mandatory on certain tracks or offices taking initiative to encourage their employees to cycle to work at least on certain days. Like, in Pune College of Military Engineering it is mandatory for everyone to use cycle on two particular days in a week. It is so refreshing to see cycle not only as recreational activity but also as a mode of transport there, irrespective of class, rank, age and gender. Rahagiri day is another great initiative which has given wings to our fantasies, given us hope that yes it possible to give motors a break and let the child inside you be free and happy. I am sure that days are not far behind when we will actually have dedicated lanes for cyclists and measures to ensure their safety. Honestly, for me cycling is not a mere health activity or some hobby. For me, it is a symbol of empowerment, a faith that Yes, our society is progressing in a better way. There are many issues involved with women bicyclists in India; I will not dwell into them. The day I will get that courage to ride my bicycle on any road in our country, be it busy or lonely, in a group or solo, will be day I will truly become a carefree and empowered woman on Indian roads. And for that to happen we need more and more people on roads on cycles, a silent revolution to boycott the fuel-barons and make administration see the need to make roads cycle-friendly. So people! Take out your cycles, go for shopping, and go for long rides. Enough of caged-rides, be a soaring kite, and feel the wind beneath your wings. And as a popular TV Ad says, ‘why should boys have all the fun’.  

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Also published in The Hindu under the heading Smile, for you are on a soaring kite

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