Sandeep Sahu

Writing in ThePrint today, senior journalist Shivam Vij has listed no less than five reasons why Teachers’ Day should be ‘abolished’. All the five reasons cited by Vij – deification of teachers, poor teaching quality, absence of social equality and critical thinking in teacher-student relationship, sexual abuse and corporal punishment - have some truth. But none of them justifies his call to abolish the celebration of Teachers’ Day. It is a bit like arguing that since women face sexual harassment at the workplace, they shouldn’t be allowed to work!

It is true that the quality of teachers – and their teaching – has deteriorated over the years. And so has the relationship between teachers and students. Rare is the teacher who showers his/her love and affection on students these days without any commercial considerations or expectations of any returns these days. On the other side of the fence, the fear and respect for teachers is conspicuous by its absence among most students. But abolition of Teachers’ Day celebrations, in my view, would do precious little to arrest the slide and restore the pristine teacher-student relationship of yore. Instead, there is a need to introspect where exactly things went wrong and find remedies for them.

When I look back on my student days, I feel it was an altogether different world governed by a different value system that would appear completely unrecognizable to the present generation of teachers and students. I also feel that my generation was luckier than the present generation of students in that we received the unadulterated love and affection of our teachers. Even when the teacher’s baton occasionally fell on us, it was always out of a genuine desire to instill discipline in us. Fair play was the rule rather than the exception.

My headmaster in UP school Basudev Mishra, a Rashtrapati award winner, could be stern when the situation warranted. But more often than not, he was kind, affectionate and forgiving. His son Narendra was my class mate and competitor. But not once did I feel that the headmaster was partial to him. In fact, it was Narendra whi nursed a grudge against me because he felt his father was partial to me! I cannot resist the temptation of recounting one incident that revealed all the traits that made him a role model for all teachers. I used to be the quintessential good boy in school, good at studies and shy in nature. But going completely against my grain, I once landed a mighty fist on a class fellow’s nose after he passed some insulting comment against me. I feared the worst as the friend started bleeding profusely in the nose and rushed straight to the headmaster’s room. Soon, the headmaster summoned me to his room and asked me, “Did you hit him?” I could not look at his face. Eyes fixed on the ground, I meekly said, “Yes, Sir!” The headmaster was stunned. May be he could not believe that his favourite student could do something like that. After a few seconds of silence, he said; “Beg apology to him and promise that you will never hit anyone again.” As I was preparing to leave after apologizing to my friend the headmaster came up with his parting shot; “I spared you the punishment only because you didn’t lie. But don’t expect the same if you do it again.” After we made up, the friend told me that the headmaster had simply refused to believe that I had hit him. “Sandeep cannot hit anyone,” he apparently kept insisting. But when the friend kept repeating his charge, he said “You must have done something really nasty to deserve such treatment from him” before summoning me.

In high school, I got several teachers who shaped my life. There was my hostel superintendent Harish Chandra Mohanty, who was extremely indulgent. He was quick to realize my homesickness and allowed me to go home whenever I wanted. On one occasion, he asked me the reason for which I wanted to go home. I said I was playing the part of a saint in the ekaankika (short play) ‘Pilisaja’, an adaptation of a famous French story. “It is not enough to play the role of Acharya. You must acquire his qualities and values. Will you?” asked my superintendent. “Yes, Sir. I will,” I said.

My English teacher, Sk. Mohiuddin was another kind soul who gave me his unstinted love and affection. Once, after the half-yearly examination, he came to the class with the answer sheets, picked up one and asked one of my class fellows to read it aloud. I realized it was my answer sheet. Once my class mate finished reading it out, Mohiuddin Sir, known as extremely stingy when it came to evaluation, explained why he had made an exception to his long standing rule of never giving anyone 60 marks in my case. Then there was Pandit Brundaban Acharya, my Sanskrit teacher (about whom I wrote the other day), who rekindled my interest in the classical language and ensured that I scored well in the subject.

In college, there was Dr. PG Rama Rao, the finest teacher I have had the good fortune of meeting. One day, he was explaining to us a poignant scene from Shakespeare’s immortal play ‘Othello’, the one where Othello delivers a long monologue after killing Desdemona. So engrossed were all of us, including Dr. Rao, that no one realized that it had got completely dark or remembered that the light needed to be switched on. It was only when he finished that we realized that the class had overshot its time limit by a good hour and half!

I would remain perennially grateful to Dr. Rao for getting me to speak In English. Having studied in Odia medium schools till then, I was extremely hesitant ansbdreaded the prospect bid having to speak in English. He understood Odia very well but would always insist that I spoke in English. But shy as I was, I excused myself every time. This cat and mouse game continued for some time till he served me an ultimatum one day. “The next time you speak in Odia, I won’t respond to you,” he said. “Habani, Sir,” I said meekly in Odia. “I know for sure you can. How is it possible that someone can write the language so well, but can’t speak it? It is just your inhibition that is holding you back,” he said. It did the trick. If I am able to speak in English today, the credit for it must go entirely to Dr. Rao.

There are many others, who played the role of teacher to perfection and made a significant contribution to my shaping as a peeper, but it is not possible to talk about all of them in a single piece.

How I wish today’s students had the likes of Harish Mohanty, Mohiuddin Sir, Pandit Acharya and Dr. Rao to guide, encourage and inspire them!

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same).