A Teacher of Note

Continued from “Vignettes of a Village”

“Landing in that town was no earthshaking moment for me as the urban life then retained its rural character though not its ethos,” he began as I was ready with my pen and papers. “But still I missed my time in the green fields where I used to pluck the tender cereals from plants and pick up the ripened palm nuts from the ground. Moreover, as my grandparents stayed back in the village, my grandma’s tales were a thing of the past, literally that was, for I had no more of her clock sense; oh, how many times in the daytime she used to ask me to go out to note the position of the shadow in the side yard by which she reckoned the hour to the quarter. Well, we had a wall clock that got stuck at 4 shortly after my grandfather tried to teach me how to read the time, and maybe her foresight made her develop a mind clock driven by those shadow lines.”

“Don’t you think there is a mental drag to our scientific advancement; while researchers strive to expand the frontiers of human faculties, the products of their endeavors tend to dull the creative urge of mankind at large?”

“Good observation; getting glued to Pogo and playing video games these days, wonder how that helps the kids to explore and experiment, but without any gadgets to name, we used to make playthings on our own, well with the parental know-how; didn’t I tell you about paper boats, but there were a host of others, whistles from coconut leaves, blowers from jute stems, telephone handsets out of matchboxes with sewing thread for a cable, just to name a few. Moreover, how fascinating it was for the kids to watch the womenfolk at play in assorted games, especially the skill on exhibition in chintapikkalu played with tamarind seeds spread on the floor. Whatever, the cinema was a sort of consolation in the town; oh how tempting it was for the kids, which remained a taboo with the parents? I suspect that as most could ill-afford the movie going, maybe it was an excuse for them to sneer at the stuff that the silver screen presented. But aided by the tax sops when theatres arranged special shows of Navrang and Do Ankhein Baara Haath for school going kids at confessional fare, it was a bonus for us to watch them from the chair-class; I still remember the festive atmosphere when we went to see those Shantaram’s movies, and since Hindi was as alien as Latin in the South those days, there used to be a translator, who gave a running commentary in our mother tongue. But for such a fare that was rare, parents kept the curtains down on the movies, but the allure of the forbidden stuff, made some of us to cheat them for an anna to make it to the matinee to watch the fare squatting on the floor right in front of the screen.”

“What a transformation with kids having pocket monies these days!”

“Well before that, when my brother, hardly ten then, gave up the movie for the day for want of a seat in the balcony, I realized how times change even in the family setting,” he said. “But in contrast, in the excitement of it all, we never bothered about how uncomfortable it was to watch from such a close range, though it was not the case for once as I was caught in the act when I took an anna from my mother on the pretext of buying a notebook to make it to the matinee show. Before I could reach home after the movie, my mother smelled a rat as she had come to know that I had bunked the post-lunch session; and so she wanted me to show the notebook that I bought. Well, I had the presence of mind to show her a fresh-looking one for the rest were anyway worn and torn, but she proved to be more than a match for me by catching me on the wrong foot; why she pointed out our teacher’s remarks of the day before, and I owned up my backdated bluff at the very first blow on my back; and wiser for that slip, I coached my classmates to portray my future absences as playground holdups.”

“It makes me recall how a classmate of mine got away for claiming that the Chambers Dictionary cost five times its price as his illiterate parents were taken in by its bulkiness.”

“That’s about the blissful ignorance,” he said, and continued. “Right outside our school gate there used to be two ice lolly vendors, Janakiramaiah the old man and Ratnam the young guy, who somehow liked me; once he took me to a matinee when I was nearly crushed in a stampede at the ticket counter, maybe, fate had preserved me, for the second time that is, to inflict bigger blows later; I’ve told you how I’d escaped from being drowned in our village tank before that. You may know what his gesture might’ve meant for me but you can’t guess what a burden it was for him to spend that extra anna on me; not that every one of us bought ice lolly to improve the duos’ bottom lines. Why, many parents were unable to spare one Rupee for the section-wise group photograph at the end of the academic year, and you can figure out the disappointment of those who lost out and the haplessness of their parents on that count. But thankfully, there is more money in more hands these days, and I can tell you that today’s poor have more to spare than the middleclass of yore. When the high-end express buses were first introduced, I knew how scary were the village folks to travel in those, why even in the ordinary buses, they could pay the fare only by digging deep into their pockets.”

“Wonder how the rural Indian poverty line came to be drawn at thirty-five rupees when these days the village folk flaunt five-hundred notes for a bus fare of fifty?”

“Well aren’t statistics the damned lies,” he said. “Instead of gloating over the blessings of life, man these days laments about the vicissitudes of fate, but in the days of yore thanks to the karma siddhanta, even the have-nots were happy for they didn’t suffer from the pangs of jealousy; what an idea karma is, attribute others’ fortune to their goodness in the previous birth and try being more humane in this one for a better time in the next round. But the ‘dream big’, ‘why not me’ and the ‘me too’ ethos of the day has become man’s bane as his insane pursuit of the moolah makes his life inane, and who can vouch for that better than me? Given my innate nature coupled with the ethos of the times and the philosophy of my upbringing, I shouldn’t have been left holding the wrong end of the get-rich stick.”

“It is the mistakes that give substance to life, don’t they?”

“It looks like the beauty of life lies more in its memory than in its living,” he said. “While the cow dung cakes were used for cooking food, its ash served as the family tooth powder; it was left for one to pick up the smoothest portion of it from the hearth, and all you needed for a clean tongue was a piece of palm leaf; why, they were as good for a head start for the day as the present day toothpaste and the metallic tongue-cleaner, but in recall, they acquire a beauty of their own. And in our town days, when tooth powder was all that my dad could afford for us, I didn’t feel wanting to have the merit-cum-means scholarship that was up for grabs; well I was only eleven then, but I could see that many of my classmates needed the dole more than I did though my miserly grandfather thought otherwise, but my dad, who, as I told you, didn’t deem it fit to claim the freedom fighter’s pension, was proud of my decision.”

“How contrasting it was, pardon my saying, from your latter-day ‘grab by all means’ credo.”

“Why didn’t that occur to me all these days?” he said and paused for long before he resumed. “In the hindsight I may say it was all owing to the gradual dissipation of the patriotic fervor in our free India, sadly, as Kamaraj put it, none thinks as an Indian but as an Andhraite, a Bengali, and a Bihari et al. And going back to the pre-independence days, it was my dad’s rashness that might’ve prompted his father to hasten his marriage; it was another matter that his one-upmanship in finalizing a match behind his son’s back left him with the egg on his face. But as if life has its own way of compensating, the beauty of the bride and the aura associated with the love-match made our surname a household name in the whole Taluka. Whatever, my grandfather was adept at the soft-sell of the irrelevant while missing out on the big picture of opportunities; how his double-speak used to amuse me in the matters of matchmaking. If his protagonist were to be the groom, he used to proclaim that dowries were on the raise, and should it be the other way round, then dowries had no other go than to nosedive; and how eager he was to know the ‘income’ as well as the ‘other income’ of whomever he met! Nothing odd about his enquiries as everyone was at it in those days, but then he tended to be more than just curious that was in spite of the rebuff he got from the first dalit government official from our village, who said that he was paid enough to live well-enough. Why when it came to job choices for boys and groom preferences for girls, the under-the-table-earning came into in the reckoning; well where were the taxmen peeping over your shoulder those days? Don’t ever buy the argument that old is gold for Kautilya wrote about bribery in his Arthasastra of yore; but it’s one thing to satiate the corrupt and another to entice the decent; oh how we businessmen came to corrupt our country’s ethical core by inducing one and all onto the corrupt path of easy money! ”

“Regretting might increase one’s guilt but it won’t undo the wrong anyway.”

“Maybe life was not designed to be that way and even otherwise, how many come to reflect upon their lives before their end?” he said. “The fact of life is that you’re the only constant of your life and all those who enter into it through its revolving door are its uncertain variables. While the warmth of a given relationship could be cherished as a lived-feeling even after the relationship itself ends; how stupid it is to expect eternal love, eternal friendship et al and feel bitter when confronted by the reality of life, sadly we tend to defuse the past feelings with the change of personal equations thereby making our life a zero-sum game. So as our false sense of superiority brings our tryst with warmth to an avoidable end, still we wouldn’t be able to feel our loss in the euphoria of success and if ever, one realizes the folly, as I do now, one feels lost.”

“Either way, it amounts to the same thing, isn’t it?”

“Needn’t be, as your genuine repentance helps you to discover the limitations of life,” he said. “But before I lost out on life in the middle, I had so much of it in youth; it was as if to provide me a larger canvas to picture my adolescence that my father moved to a bigger town, where my cousin Raju’s parents lived. How elated were our elders at the prospect of a prospering friendship between us; Raju’s father pulled all the stops to see that I was admitted into that school Raju was in but to no avail as by then there was no scope for further admissions But still, Raju took me to the headmaster who said that though he had earlier turned away the parents, he had no heart to refuse his pupil’s plea to further his cousin’s education. Why not put down his name to posterity as Devanandam.”

“By what you said of Raju, it’s possible that his persona was at work as much as Devanandam’s love for his pupils.”

“Why it didn’t occur to me, surely it could’ve been the case,” he said a little embarrassed. “But then, to start with, I was not interested in joining that school for its regimen began with the Christian prayers and the very thought of participation in those made me uncomfortable; why I was equally averse to the idea of joining any RSS sakha in the town that I just then left; maybe I was born with a secular mind; it was only after Raju assured me that the prayer was a voluntary affair that I had relented and if not, I wouldn’t have had such an Alma Matter headed by Devanandam, a venerable product of the times when teaching was a noble profession and not the commercial proposition that it had become; why won’t this apply to the medical practitioners in equal measure.”

Continued to “Brink of Incest” 


More by :  BS Murthy

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