Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan was our country’s first vice-president, second president and the third person to have a chain of expensive schools to his name.
Dr. Radhakrishnan celebrated his birthday on 5th September. The celebrations would usually be a private affair, with only a very few close friends and family gathering at his place, cutting the cake and struggling with his complete name while singing the Happy Birthday song. They would have a plate of samosas, potato chips, a cup of Fanta and then head home with their return gift of a pencil, an eraser and a plastic scale. Literally very old school celebrations, you see.
However, on his 50th birthday, his close friends and family got together and planned a different theme for his surprise party. As the clock struck 12 on the night of 4th September 1963, about a 1000 friends, students and relatives raided his home with 10 tankers of tequila, 50 cartons of colourful pills and an unknown number of male and female strippers tucked away in as many birthday cakes.
The drunken revelry went on till the wee hours of the morning, when the neighbours, ably assisted by the National Security Guards (NSG) finally managed to drive everyone home and clear up the evidence.
When Dr. Radhakrishnan opened his eyes in the morning, he realized that two floors of his 3 storey house were not there anymore. He found himself lying upside down on a large strawberry cake, with a couple of silk stockings around his neck, a golden sceptre in his left hand and a live grenade in his right hand. A few feet away, two people were lying face-down on the ground. He identified one of them as Lord Mountbatten with his pants missing.
That was when he decided he had enough of birthday parties.
The very next day, he addressed the press and said, “Umm, birthdays are cool, but you know what I would really like? If instead of celebrating MY birthday on 5th September and thrashing MY house, you celebrate it as Teacher’s Day! Nobody pays much attention to them anyway. And I’d appreciate it if you cleared Mountbatten off my backyard immediately.”
Dr. Radhakrishnan’s missing floors and Mountbatten’s missing pants continue to remain history’s unsolved mysteries, but India has since observed 5th September as Teacher’s Day – a solemn tribute to the memorable party.
Today, on Teacher’s Day, I am going to revisit my school days and pay homage to some of the most amazing teachers I’ve had the privilege of learning from.
Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach. And those who can’t teach, teach gym.
Whenever I think about Mr. Man-thony, the Physical Education teacher, I always wonder: what makes a man “manly”?
Some of you might imagine tough cowboys from old Westerns taming wild horses and eating bullets for breakfast as manly. For others, it might be sportsmen such as boxers and rugby players who regularly break bones with a smile on their faces.
Well, I beg to differ with all of you.
According to me, a real man is the one who doesn’t pause to think when it comes to beating 9 year old kids for not standing straight during a physical exercise routine in the blistering summer heat. Depending on his mood, he would beat kids with his bare hands, a wooden scale, or with a cane. On many occasions, it became very difficult to choose between the 3, which is what made Mr. Man-thony special : he always knew how to hit, where to hit and what to use for hitting. His decision making skills were impeccable, making him a formidable figure in the fascinating world of Physical Education teachers. And that, my friends, is what made him “manly”.
Now that we have covered his personality, let us go a bit into his abilities as a teacher. I have to start by pointing out the stark, ridiculous irony that Mr. Man-thony, himself out of shape and weighing over 100 kgs, being entrusted with Physical Education. This minor discrepancy notwithstanding, we were expected to take fitness instructions from a man with a belly so huge that it made us believe he was pregnant with quadruplet rhinoceros babies.
That said, it must be noted that Physical Education is not an easy thing to teach. This is not like pussy Mathematics or Science which you can learn sitting in the comfort of classrooms; this is much more hands-on. Children have to be taught the mystic art of running, jumping and waving their arms in roughly symmetrical patterns – a skill previously practised only within the closed confines of the Shaolin Temple. Much respect to him for sharing with us this invaluable, rare superpower which transformed us mere school students into hunky Greek Gods with sculpted marble physiques.
On Teacher’s Day, I want to thank Mr. Man-thony personally. Thank you for taking out the anger stemming from your utter incompetence and failure at life on little defenseless kids. You sir, must be awarded with a private dungeon equipped with the finest quality Italian leather belts, spiked clubs and canes made of redwood trees that you can use to discipline future generations of unruly 5th graders.
Miss Virgin Scary
Dear Lord, please protect me from your followers.
Miss Scary was one of the few teachers that I didn’t relate to. She taught us history, but I never understood why she had to commence all classes with prayers praising Jesus Christ. I’m not making this up – she really did this. She would ask us to close our eyes and pray to someone’s Holy Mother for a reason we are still not entirely sure about to this day.
I vividly remember a day back in sixth grade. I remember that day because it left a lasting impression. It was the day she told us about “The Rapture”.
She had a crazy, deluded look in her eyes… the look you find in the eyes of people who wear “The End Is Near” signs around their necks and stand around street corners. It was probably due to the temporary unavailability of antidepressants at that time, or maybe the cult that she belonged to had a nervous breakdown; we’ll never know. What we do know is that she seemed very disturbed that afternoon.
She skipped history lessons for the day and started telling us about how the world was going to end very soon. She said that in the year 2000, a great flood will begin, that it will be pitch dark outside and it will rain day and night, that only a red cross will be visible high in the sky, that the only way to save ourselves and our family was to cover our windows with newspapers and read from the Bible. Those who believed in Christ the Saviour shall be saved, the others doomed. She told us all this in the kooky, shivering voice of a woman who lived alone in her apartment with only stray cats for company.
I was 11 at that time and I was fucking scared. So were my friends.
I went home feeling extremely rattled and repeated whatever Miss Scary said in front of my mom. My mom was pissed. She said, “What kind of humans are they to brainwash my little boy with such utter nonsense? Don’t they understand that such obscure religious statements can have a drastic effect on a child?”
She then sat me down and calmly explained that there was no such thing as a Rapture, and even if it were to happen, nothing could harm us Hindus because our Lord Krishna was there to protect us. He was the dude who had once lifted the Govardhan hill with his pinky, saved a whole village from heavy monsoons, and then played an awesome flute solo inspired by Jethro Tull. As long as I prayed to Him, I didn’t need to worry about any floods.
Problem fucking solved! I was so damn relieved. Haha, losers! You can’t touch me, biatches!
You can very well see how that incident has helped in shaping my religious beliefs.
On Teacher’s Day, I want to thank Miss Scary personally. Thank you for confusing 11 year old children with your stupid religious ideologies. Thank you for believing that faith is something to be enforced upon and not something to be experienced by oneself. The year 2000 is long gone, but I’m still waiting for the Zombie Apocalypse. The umbrella and the Bible that I bought to save my family are still untouched. Do give me a call if J. Christ and da J-Unit decide to show up.
Mrs. Fat Gujju Aunty
I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.
I cannot stress enough on the importance of arts in a child’s life. Have you ever noticed how children seem to be blissfully lost in their own world when they are drawing? It’s probably the only time their imagination is fuelled, their creativity is unrestrained and they connect to a part of themselves they’ve never seen. With a blank canvas, a pencil and a few crayons, a child’s mind breaks free of all barriers and explores distant avenues. For once, the child experiences true freedom from the somewhat rigid patterns of thinking required in regular subjects.
But Mrs. Fat Gujju Aunty, my drawing teacher, didn’t give a flying fuck. To her, drawing fell in 4 categories: grade A (very good), grade B (kinda good), grade C (stick to Math, you nerd) and grade D (did you puke over this?).
I enjoyed drawing the most, but dreaded it only for the fear of getting a C or D.
I don’t blame her. She is a part of a system that believes art classes are a waste of time. Drawing classes meant copying obscure images of sunflowers, animals and a bunch of vessels from textbooks and having an older sibling (or worse, parents) help out with the colouring. These would then be impartially graded (Gujju kids got better grades because they were… well, better than you) and even if you got a D, it didn’t matter because it wasn’t a subject that you needed to pass in.
This is how creativity is stifled in schools. At an age where talent should be identified and encouraged, children are made to believe that it is worthless. If you’ve watched Taare Zameen Par, you would know what it is like to be Ishaan Awashti’s parents.
On Teacher’s Day, I want to thank Mrs. Aunty personally. Thank you for scribbling large, red ‘D’ marks over our drawings and firmly putting us back in our place. Had Vincent van Gogh been your student, he would have shot himself before the class even ended.
We may not pay Satan reverence, for that would be indiscreet, but we can at least respect his talent.
Miss Palm-ela was my English teacher in fourth grade. She got her nickname from her trademark open palm slap which would just sweep you off your feet. I have fond memories of being one of the gifted few to have tasted her meaty palm across the face. To this day, I rate it higher than Federer’s backhand and Nadal’s forehand.
Miss Palm-ela was no ordinary woman. When she entered the classroom, the whole class would drop whatever they were doing, shut the fuck up and wet their respective pants inside 4 milliseconds. After all, she was this massive beast of a woman with a voice of… ah her voice. I appreciate her voice much more today than I did then because it sounds EXACTLY like this.
Oh yeah, she was Satan’s daughter herself.
I remember experiencing my first Palm-ela slap when I struggled with the pronunciation of a particular word during the English class. The impact sent me reeling to the ground. She stood over me and bellowed:
Palm-ela: To manipulate the fears of others, you must first learn to master your own. Are you ready to begin?
Me: I-I can barely stand.
Palm-ela: Death does not wait for you to be ready, death is not considerate or fair and make no mistake about it, here you will face death! Now read that sentence again!
I tried again. I failed again.
Palm-ela: I’m trying to free your mind, Sachin. But I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it.
She then pointed to the classroom door. I walked out quietly.
Our principal spotted me standing outside the classroom and asked her why I was punished. She didn’t answer, but during lunch time that day, she ate his liver with Fava beans and a nice Chianti.
On Teacher’s Day, I want to thank Miss Palm-ela personally. Thank you for demonstrating how the human hand can break the sonic barrier with illustrative examples. Discipline is necessary, but damn you bitch, those slaps really hurt. They still hurt.
Moral of the story?
Some of this might seem amusing, some tragic, but this is how the Indian education system works. A system where Mathematics is about mugging up formulae; where arts, music and sports are looked upon as “out of curriculum” subjects that add no value to education and actually interfere with studies; where parents are told that their 8 year old or 10 year old will never do well in life because of low scores in a fucking mid term test; where the story of our own countrymen who gave up their lives for freedom is worth about 10 marks in the exams; where poems are not meant to be understood and appreciated for the emotion conveyed, but for parroting out as is; where your grades will determine how successful you will be in life; where the notion is to carry on with the same old textbooks with obsolete information and still expect kids to be the future leaders; where beating, scolding and yelling is supposed to improve a child’s learning abilities; where parents feel the need to send their kids to private tutors, many of whom are teachers at the same school; where many children are denied love and attention they might not get at home; where society can’t break out of classroom walls and the mental walls where young minds are imprisoned at a very early age.
And in spite of this sad state, you find some of the brightest young minds coming from India. I think this is probably because for every bad teacher, there is one good teacher who’d set things right. For every teacher who beats children, there is always one to pick them up. For every teacher you hate to see at school, there is one you look forward to learn from. Those lucky enough to have that one good teacher turn out okay.
On Teacher’s Day, I want to thank all the good teachers personally. It’s your values and your blessings I live with today, and I’m proud to have learned from you. You might not be in the majority, but even a small number makes a world of difference to thousands of young students growing up.
I hope there are more teachers like you and less of those who poison a child’s mind with doubt, insecurity and fear. I wish that children can look at schools as a place for learning and growing, not as a place where dreams are crushed under an absurd load of unrealistic expectations. I’d like to see schools without illusive boundaries, clipped wings or indelible red ink marks.
Happy birthday, Dr. Radhakrishnan. Happy Teacher’s Day.