Saturday, September 5, 2015

Quit Schools: A Teachers’ Day Message

(a village nursery school, for representational purpose only)

Teacher’s Day. The memories start from a hall which is filled with light. A four year old child I am I cry out wildly as I want to get back to the hands of my mother who has gone away leaving me there into the hands of another woman. The room smells of milk. I just cannot discern from where the light comes in so sharply, blinding me. My eyes burn in sorrow, in tears, in light and in the newly found separation from my mother. I do not realize that I should store this taste of separation and I should learn something from it for this could be the beginning of a series of separations that are in store for me. But who am I to know it on this day? I just cry. Children come near, they touch and feel me, and they all look seasoned creatures of survival in that place. How can they smile, laugh and play otherwise? The woman who has received me from my mother’s hands tells me something. She shows me the blackboard with so many curves and cones made of white lines. She shows me books full of pictures. I do not know that the entry into the world of letters us also a forced separation from the world of blissful ignorance and innocence. She is the teacher my first teacher; a faceless, formless woman today in my mind, who smells of milk. I think she is made of tears.

Though she was my first teacher, technically it was my father who had ushered me into the world of letters. Before a lamp kept on the floor, decked up with flowers, I sat on the lap of my father on an auspicious day which was earmarked for getting howling kids into the world of letters. It happens even today, all over Kerala and wherever Malayalis live. They invite old teachers, poets, retired headmasters and so on to do the job. It is a huge business now. Some rightwing organizations have taken the contract of it, it seems. I have heard of stories of the bewildered children shouting expletives at the revered teachers who try to run the unwilling children’s fingers on a platter of rice.

(a great writer, Lord Ganesh)

My father made me sit on his lap. The brass plate with rice spread on it was ready in front of him. I was happy for sitting on my father’s lap, a rarity even during those days. He took my finger and wrote on the rice, ‘Hari Shree, Ganapathaye Namaha’. Lord Ganesh is the first private secretary who could even excel the real author of Mahabharata, Veda Vyasa, not only in writing the whole volume down but also writing it down without committing a mistake. In Indian mythology Lord Ganesha has a very special place as he is considered as the destroyer of barriers in any new beginning. Once he is pleased he would do anything for you. What a beautiful concept; you worship an elephant headed cute god and please him with coconuts and sweets and he would help you to enter into the world of anything. Lord Ganesh has always been very dear to the Indian people, irrespective of their religions. The freedom fighter and social leader, Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, in the late 19th century, initiated a Ganesh festival in Maharashtra in order to create a national movement against the British. Today, the degenerated Hindutva forces have owned up this benign god. Like most of the Hindu gods, he too has been converted into a warrior god by the right wing fundamentalists.

Lord Ganesh and my father together initiated me into the world of letters. I would say, my father is my first teacher. He was a very strict teacher; less considerate, ‘full of sound and fury’ and signified quite a lot of things. He wanted me, as the years went on, to become a journalist. A Journalist. Imagine, in a village in those days nobody thought about making their children journalists. My father used to write so many things, magazine articles to pamphlets to small advertisement boards. He could do anything, it seemed then. So it was natural for him to see his son as an established journalist. I grew up surrounded by books made available by my parents and thought of becoming a journalist though I did not know what would be the prospectus of that work (I did become a journalist but I do not know whether I am a journalist or something else). When I went to college, I did not opt for studying journalism, instead I studied literature. My father died and in due course of time my idea to study journalism academically also died. My father did not fail me by initiating into the world of letters. I am thankful to him for he got me into a world where I could discern things through knowledge and wisdom facilitated by letters, unlike many who are educated yet blinded by religious and all kinds of fundamentalism.

 (Bal Gangadhar Tilak)

In my primary school, we had a headmaster who was a friend of my father too. Famous for his cruel ways of handling the hapless kids, which for some strange reason the parents encouraged, the headmaster ruled over us for four years and he never taught us anything. His job was to look at the files and cane the truant kids. The only teacher who taught was Ponnamma teacher, who painstakingly made devices to teach us things scientifically. There was another teacher who came on a bicycle, with his beautiful daughter on a baby seat on the front frame of the cycle. In those days teachers sent their children to the government run schools, where they taught. Today, teachers earn salaries from government schools in order to send their children to private schools.

In the high school too, we met a headmaster, again my father’s friend and a worse version of the primary school head master. He too looked into the files and caned the boys. But we had wonderful teachers. Balakrishnan sir was a great reader and used to write poems. He took the charge of the library and let me read inside the library, which was a rare thing in those days. I could even skip a period and go to the library to read! Some privilege it was. May be they all knew that with my somewhat obese body I was not good for games and sports. We had beautiful teachers who taught us mathematics, biology, chemistry and physics. We had a very pious Muslim teacher who taught us geography and history simply by reading the text books to us. We had an inventor in Prabhakaran sir, who had taught us ‘abacus’ then. We learnt abacus for the sheer curiosity to see how beads could solve complicate mathematical issues. Thankfully I do not remember a thing today of abacus. When my son goes to study abacus with so much interest, I wonder whether he would ever use this in his life. Perhaps, I could name most of the teachers from my high school and still I remember most of them and when I see them by chance, they too recognize me; the moments that make me once again feel like a school boy. Then I sadly tally the white hairs on their moustache and on mine. Sighhh…

(Sree Narayana Guru Samadhi in Sivagiri, where I used to spend my time)

In my pre-degree (Plus two), many teachers taught us many things. I was a science student. I forgot the teachers and subjects as well. There is a dark hole as big as two years. What was I doing then? I vaguely remember my Malayalam teacher cursing me. That’s all. I spent time in a shrine near the college, spent time in libraries and preferred to be alone. I could have become a monk then. I had a couple of friends who came from the ‘Math’ nearby. I started meditating, that means sitting idle at the Sivagiri Sree Narayana Guru Samadhi. I was reading and watching paddy fields, water ways and people in the valley, from the hilltop where the shrine was located. Blame it on the hormones. I never became a monk. I went to the opposite direction. In my degree, I remember Vijay Nair. From my MA, when I look at the group photo, I remember my teachers. To tell you the truth, I should have left my education by high school. There was no need to study further. Till the age of 35 I used to have teacher. Recently I chose my younger friend as my guide to do a PhD. But I think education is useless. Teachers are useful and you need not find teachers within the schools or colleges. You can get them from anywhere. You can chance upon them. Your friend could be your teacher, your children could be your teacher and your woman could be your teacher.

(Jiddu Krishnamurty)

Hence, my advice to all is this. Find your teacher and leave education. Education is not going to help anyone. Education is meant for gathering information. When you process it you may get some knowledge. But what is the use of information and knowledge? What are you going to do with these things? You may use these for appearing for a test and getting a job. We do not have other criteria for selecting good workers. We still depend on educational qualifications and their ability to vomit information on the answer sheets. We are not looking at or considering the skill sets of people. We are not focusing our attention to the skills and talents that the people have. Today, unheard of before, parents take their children to grooming schools to polish their talents because they have glamour and money there in the television channels. This is not education either. It is not even polishing the talent. It is just preparing for a fight. One has to gain wisdom and wisdom can come only from looking, watching, observing, reading, analyzing, processing and then discerning. Discerning power is wisdom. When someone says that my god is better than your god, if one has the ability to think, feel and behave that there is no difference and tell the other person that it is foolishness or just leave him there with a smile is wisdom. One could cite many examples for having wisdom. But wisdom has no rules. Education has. Wisdom comes from the micro units of experience. Wisdom is the result of contexts. Wisdom is beauty and truth. Wisdom is the only way of life. Education is now market. Market never teaches you wisdom. But in the market, you just wander and find your teacher and quit. That’s enough. I bow before all those teachers who helped me to say this. They have been preparing me to say this all this while. Jiddu Krishnamoorthy was once asked by an interviewer what could have he done had he not been found out by Leedbeater and Madam Blavatsky. Jiddu answered, I would have done the same what I do today in a small village in Andhra Pradesh. 

No comments: