“At it’s highest level, the purpose of teaching is not to teach—it is to inspire the desire for learning. Once a student’s mind is set on fire, it will find a way to provide its own fuel.”
― Sydney J. Harris
More than twenty five years have elapsed since I left school. At the time I felt a mild sense of sadness coupled with a bigger sense of excitement for what was to come. How quickly those years have flown by! Much has gone on in all our lives, as is the nature of things. However, this return to one’s roots has, in a sense, rekindled a curiosity of what those years really meant to me.
Schools are institutions of learning. That much is a given. Textbook learning and life lessons go hand in hand. At the heart of all great institutions are the people who constitute it. At the heart of The Mother’s International School, are its teachers. All of us had our favourites, and then the not so fondly thought of either.
Looking back over my journey, a handful of my teachers stand out.
Mrs Bhola, my first teacher at school. The most kind, loving, generous lady I had come across at the age of seven. The first one who bemoaned the loss of my locks, when in an instance of madness, I decided to get shorn of them. A Maggie from The Mill on the Floss moment, I had taken the scissors to my hair and given myself a lopsided hair cut. My mother had, in her wisdom, decided that it was perhaps better to cut it all off. The dismay on Mrs Bhola’s face is an expression I still chuckle over.
Mrs Ramachandran, my Maths teacher in the sixth, who had exclaimed that Iqbal and I had the sweetest smiles in the classroom. But then had promptly turned against me when I started missing her lessons in favour of dance rehearsals, prompting a lifelong terror of Mathematics.
Benny ma’am, the instigator of all this trouble, an equal and opposing force to Mrs Ramachandran. She, of the lithe feet and quick temper. She, who would brook no arguments, when it came to her dance lessons. She who poked and prodded us into the regional semi-finals of an all India dance competition. It was she who instilled the love of dance in me. All through school, I would look forward to the castings for the Annual day dance dramas. I would be delighted to get a major role or devastated to be over-looked.
Flavia ma’am, the one who understood my love of books; nurtured it, encouraged it. The one who would give me a special smile when I was on Chapter 10 while everyone else was still ploughing through Chapter 3. The one who roped me into auditioning for school plays. Who cheered me on as I gave the performance of my life, but also hung on to the shaky set while I got carried away pounding on an imaginary door. Who treated us to samosas and pastries for winning the inter house play competition. Who introduced me to carol singing when everyone else was on bhajans. So many sweet memories of a sweet sweet lady, taken too soon. RIP dear Flavia ma’am. You will always live on in my memories.
Alka ma’am, the dynamic, precocious, khaki clad Hindi teacher, who re invigorated us into loving the language in all its complexities. Her never-say-die attitude that rubbed off on all that came in contact with her. Her obvious puritanical, Gandhian leanings that had us view her with a certain awe. To her, I owe a debt for falling in love with the language. With the Mahabharata, with Munshi Premchand, Mahadevi Verma and a pantheon of Indian writers I may never have known otherwise.
Mr Bhalla, our History teacher. The young handsome man that all the girls had a wee crush on. He, more than anyone else, who nagged and chivvied and cajoled me into writing. Who sent my entries into the Newspaper in Education competitions, and took a fatherly pride in everything I won. To him, I owe a deep and abiding love of writing.
Then there was a teacher who I dare not name. Her acerbic tongue and whiplash treatment of me had me quaking in my shoes. To her I owe the ability to apply myself to a thankless task or subject (Chemistry) with diligence when the need arises. In my end of school autograph book she wrote about a diamond being polished through many trials and tribulations. I never forgot the trials of being in her class. But grasped that sometimes the route to learning may well be paved with the stones of petrification.
On the other end of the spectrum was Mrs Chugh. She, of the gentle demeanour, and infinite patience. Who liked me, regardless of my incompetence in her subject, Maths. Who exclaimed over every extra mark I managed to secure in Calculus. Who was a pillar through the turbulent run up to the dreaded Board exams. If, at this stage in my life, I have any working knowledge of numbers, then I owe that entirely to her.
Finally, there was Mrs Pillay. From the very first moment that I had met her, when she tested me on my Hindi matras, before I could join school, to when she very incisively informed my father that I was a literature student, and was making a big mis-take joining Commerce, she was a bit of an enigma to me. Here was a lady, who was obviously, an iron fist in a velvet glove. Her vision to make MIS one of the best schools in the country has finally found fruition. Yet she would allow her tears to flow freely in our morning assemblies. We would speculate over her beauty, but be equally aware, that it was suicide to cross her.
How much of a role these teachers have played in shaping who I am today! They have been beacons of light, slivers of optimism, shards of criticism, guiding hands that have led me to the doorway of life. As I return to my Alma Mater on the 26th of January, 2014, I come with a heart full of gratitude and a deep appreciation of what these brave, amazing people do, every single day of their lives.
Amen to that.