My earliest memory of a teacher, is that of a laughing nun running with a group of six-year-olds and all of us collapsing into a sand pit. After almost three decades, her smile remains pristine; her radiant face shines in my memory and whenever a particular fragrance is in the surrounding, the scene flashes past me.
Whatever I am today, with all humility, has been the handiwork of loving and nurturing hands; a lot of wise words and unconditional support from 'teacher figures'. Why 'teacher figures'? Because, Guru is a concept -- the ones who take us from darkness to light -- and often, a lot of unexpected passersby in life can, serendipitously, play the role too!
One bad habit that my UKG mistress could not cure in me was my talkativeness. "The most talkative girl in class," she told my mother. But she said one more thing; so I have taken both the pill and the sugar together for life. "She can be whatever she wishes to be." Pretty cool to say that to a little child, huh! Chicken soup for the budding soul. Life lesson one.
A helpful classmate cautioned me in my twenties, "Don't overestimate your potential -- you should know your limitations." Ah, Doubting Thomases were many, and very strident too in their put-downs. But I had always grinned to myself, for their malicious comments only spurred me on. No arrogance, just the safety net of some words, whispered to an impressionable mind, three decades ago.
Class Six. English Composition. Sister Marcella writes in red ink: "Good. Keep it up. It is a delight to read your page." I framed it in my mind and hung it onto my writing dreams.
Not one of the umpteen rejection letters, that often became the norm in my youth, could dampen the spirit! Hail Sister Marcella, for those absolutely fabulous lines of cheer; my teacher trusted my writing skills and that would suffice in this simple lifetime. Not that I became a world-famous author! But what the heck, rediff did ask me to write this article.
Having defined two 'Aha' moments that still enable the Jonathan Livingston Seagull in me to never say die and fly; I also look back at the painful moments.
One teacher, who believed in corporal punishment and blatant favouritism. Someone who took a dislike to me, on the very first day. Memory can be awfully sharp when it comes to moments of betrayal and hurt.
Every day, I used to scrawl the figure of the beatings received on my house's wall. When the sum total reached 21 in a month, my mother visited the school. I remember standing there like a criminal in the principal's room, as the sharp-nosed teacher (I still remember her name!) dressed in a light green sari, told my mother, the horrible characteristics of her ward.
Hurt and humiliated, Mother left, with tears in her eyes; and I was ushered back to sit on the last bench of the class. We were doing picture pasting, I remember. With a malicious smirk, the teacher gave me the picture of a white water lily. Ah, how I remember when my own tears mixed with the glue. For I simply did not understand why she hated me. I was seven years old.
Till today, when I encounter circumstances where people are negative and will not accept me for their own reasons, her face flashes by and cautions me, 'This is not worth it, let it be'. We also learn life lessons from such teachers.
In engineering college, my tendency to quote John Keats instead of Electronic Circuits, created piquant situations. During a seminar, when I waxed eloquent on optical devices, one respected teacher sarcastically pointed out, "No need for elocution -- you should be in marketing and not engineering." Lots of denigrating laughter around.
Life lesson continued. If your inherent skills are displayed under the wrong circumstances, you get laughed at. Your self esteem can take a beating. Just accept that in an environment that valued equations, it is a sin to recite poetry. So wait for the next level, patiently.
And when home beckoned from Jamshedpur, my soul took to it like an Ugly Duckling to the life giving, holy waters. Many teachers turned out to be swans in waiting, who took me into their affectionate fold. I met saints and shamans who quoted Sufi poetry and learning curves even as they taught me quantitative and qualitative techniques on managing my life.
"This too shall pass. Aim for excellence with humility." Blessed be XLRI, for that supreme teaching, as epitomised by many of her exemplary professors. They taught me acceptance and tolerance; the fact that it takes seven colours to make a single white light. And that there is space under the sun for all hues.
Many teachers appeared later in life too, as my career twisted and turned, requiring guidance at every step. The gurus have always arrived on time, with true love and affection, leaving me humbled and overwhelmed.
In my family culture, the child is initiated into letters on Navratri, when the teacher figure (in my case my father) holds the right forefinger and traces 'Om Hari Sree Ganapathaye Namah' on a plate of raw rice. That beginning has done me good.
So on Teacher's Day, I bow before all my blessed guides, starting right from my father and the laughing nun to the faceless one yet to come.
'Guru Brahma, Guru Vishnu, Guru Devo Maheshwara, Guru Sakshat Prabrahma, Thasmaiye Sree Guruve Namah' (My teachers, equivalent of the blessed Trinity. Incarnation of Parabrahma. I bow before you.)
Ministhy S is an IAS officer who is an engineering graduate and did her postgraduation in management. She submitted her doctorate thesis recently. Five of her books have been published.