Dr Prescott, the charismatic Principal in Louis Auchincloss’ bestseller, ‘The Rector of Justin’, took up teaching and excelled at it because his ambition was to teach Jane Austen and light the spark in at least some of his students. Or remember how James Hilton’s wonderful teacher, Mr Chipping (affectionately known as Mr Chips), was adored by his boarding school students, who then helped him survive two world wars and the death of his loving wife.
All over the world, instances of real-life attachments or fictitious accounts have glorified the teacher-pupil relationship. These span the world of academics, sports, music, other fine arts and even war skills. The ‘Mahabharat’ offered dozens of instances highlighting the special bond which existed between Guru Dronacharya and his gifted disciple, Arjuna. This was a special kind of relationship, which did not encourage intrusion by a third party, however strong and powerful it was. There were problems when such third parties, in order to consolidate their vested interests, tried their best to interfere and sour the ideal guru-shishya links. These moves were temporarily successful, but not in the long run, especially not when the beautiful relationship was purely based on unselfish motives.
People who have seized power and would not like to let go of it in a hurry adopt these tactics by pretending to be someone they are not. The relationship between Sachin Tendulkar and Coach Ramakant Achrekar was notable because the coach did not expect anything for himself. He worked hard to make Sachin the best batsman in the world and he did succeed.
The coach did not think of money, fame or power by way of national awards. There was perfect understanding between the pupil and the coach and knowing this, the others did not intrude. On the other hand, several superstars in other games often change their coaches (the latest being tennis player Andy Murray, whose coach used to be Ivan Lendl) due to ego clashes or pride over ‘creating and owning’ the star.
In politics, we have the ‘protégé’ system, where a young, uncommitted political leader with charisma, personality and talent is pursued by different groups and parties. Of course, this system is yet to make an impact in India in view of the prevailing ‘family comes first’ syndrome. Politicians also tend to follow a system of vote-banks, dividing the electorate on the basis of caste, community and religion. This is the bane of Indian political system. Now it seems we are catching them younger than ever.
In a nation which is supposed to worship the ‘guru’, the concept can be misused. So far, since Independence, India has had two outstanding Presidents, who shone as teachers, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Dr Zakir Hussain.
The nation was privileged to listen to their speeches on September 5, designated as Teacher’s Day. This day actually belongs to these great men and all the teachers of the country and a third factor, the students, who chose to honour their teachers.
The government in power also chose to honour the ‘best’ teachers, which was done in a haphazard manner. Enter the BJP-led NDA government and the sanctity of this occasion was lost. There was a row over renaming the day as ‘Guru Utsav’, which was seen as favouring the northern regions. Worse was to follow. The Prime Minister was going to address the students and most states made it compulsory viewing, which caused a great deal of inconvenience, disrupting their normal routine.
What this did was to saddle teachers with additional responsibilities on their special day. The current thinking seems to be that teachers have to prove their patriotism time and again by being assigned administrative work (election duty, government functions and whatnot) for a pittance. Even sick and pregnant teachers are not spared!
When will the PM and his admirers ever understand that today’s students are not likely to sit and listen to ‘bhashans.’ The BJP and the Sangh Parivar have not been able to divert their minds from traditional thinking. Let them pose new scientific new challenges to the students. Of course India’s rich and varied cultural heritage must be inculcated in their training.
Despite high expectations, Modi has yet to reach out to the Indian poor who are different from those who regard a healthy stock exchange as the barometer of India’s economic prosperity. The charismatic Vajpayee in 2004 thought so and lost the Lok Sabha polls and Vajpayee knew how to appeal to human hearts.