Remembering Teachers

The story of teachers in my life is like a ‘Masala’ Bollywood film. It was ‘hate at first sight’ that gradually transformed to deep respect and affection. Today I would acknowledge without any exaggeration that the teachers have made me whatever I am today. But the journey has been like a roller coaster ride.

Speaking of teachers, my early memories of my teachers are not very pleasant. My mother taught me at home and I was directly admitted to the 3rd standard. The teacher agreed in his discussion that I could even be admitted to 4th standard directly, but advised my parents against it. I was listening and thought it was a great injustice. 

I clearly thought that I knew everything in this world [my wife says that such a feeling is deep rooted in my personality and it is obvious to all!], and my fights with my teachers started immediately on my joining the school! Within a few months I told my teacher [I was in the 3rd standard then] that he was an ignoramus and knew nothing!!

The teacher was patient in every sense of the word. He did not say anything to me but reported it to my father, a doctor, of whom he was a patient. The consequence of his action, a ‘tuning up’ at the hands of my father who belonged to the generation which never tolerated a word of disrespect to teachers, further alienated me from teachers’ community.  Our family soon moved to Mumbai and I had a new school to attend.

The new Marathi school was a not a good experience at all, as far as teachers were concerned, with my getting beaten up very badly by a teacher. [I remember that I promised myself that day that I will also beat him up when I ‘grow up.’ I later found this very feeling captured by PG Wodehouse in “Laughing Gas”; in that story the child hero keeps a list of people to be thrashed when he grows up!].

And I returned the favour to the teacher when I wrote an essay on what I would like to be in future. While I wrote that I wanted to be a doctor like my father, I ended the essay by stating that ‘in any case I will never be a school teacher like Mr. X’, mentioning the teacher who had used the stick on me. That perhaps did it; my father changed my school again. The new school had teachers who tolerated me or perhaps I had learnt to be more careful with them after repeated encounters.

But an incident changed my attitude towards the teachers.

My elder brother was appearing for his matriculation examination; he was very good at studies and was expected to do very well in the examination. On the day of examination, Mr Joglekar, my brother’s teacher perhaps in his late fifties, came home to meet him. Mr. Joglekar did not say much except that he expected my brother to do well in his exams and conveyed his blessings. I had not known that teachers can be so nice.

I never felt bad about leaving the school when I passed my matriculation examination. Moving to a college was a great experience. There was a sense of freedom. And a lot of excitement. And a feeling of inadequacy! I had studied in the vernacular medium school, but the medium of instruction in college was English. I knew that I could not speak two sentences in that foreign language, and I had classmates who came from convent schools or English medium schools. They spoke fluent English.

The college had arranged tutorials for us. A Parsee lady, the tutor, used to encourage us to write English essays. She always encouraged me and said often that I write well. There was some praise now coming from a teacher when it was most needed. I have forgotten her name but not her. I must have supplied her hilarious material given our ‘proficiency’ in the language, but she never ridiculed, never laughed, and never scolded anybody. She encouraged us, appreciated when we showed progress. She unknowingly understood the golden rule ‘Catch them doing something right.’

When I took up a job, my boss was a ‘Guru’ more than a teacher. I mean he helped me reflect – he actually instilled a habit of reflection. That actually was the result and not his intention to do it. My guru often left me with questions I could not answer and that used to disturb me a lot. Some questions were very insulting; they kind of shook you up. Very often I could find the answer only upon some reflection. It was a strange way to develop a junior.

Later I realised that he too searched answers to some questions and putting questions to me was often a monologue, he was perhaps speaking to himself. But we were also with him in his journey. And in a peculiar way we were also going forward in our journey, learning something about ourselves and our little world.

On my table I kept a small photograph of Lord Dattatreya who had twenty-one gurus. One has to learn from everybody, I realised. I also realised that it required an open mind and a willingness to hold one’s belief in suspension. This is not easy, I can practice it better than I did in the past but there is a long, long way to go. It is a mystery as to how I have travelled this distance; but I suppose it is the guru who made the difference. I realised that ‘growth’ is a very slow and unobtrusive process; you do not know yourself how you are changing.

I began by mentioning how I fought with my teacher. Let me end this narration by telling you a story when a teacher hit his student. 

There was a Zen master who asked his disciple, ‘Have you seen the God?’ The disciple was puzzled. He stood there speechless with his head down, lost in contemplating on the question. The master was happy; he called his disciple and praised him. On the next day the master called him and asked him, ‘Have you seen the God?’ The disciple stood there with his head down and did not speak a word. The master picked up his stick and hit him hard. ‘Why are you hitting me, master?’ the disciple asked. The Zen master replied ‘You were truthful yesterday, now you are manipulating me, you know which answer works. We have to find a new answer every day to the same question!’

Yes indeed!! And that is a long journey. The difference is that now anybody can teach me – rather I am willing to learn from anybody. 

And that includes my grand-daughter too!