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Friday, December 07, 2007

A little bit of self-defence...

A lot of people are hurt or offended when they get back to me after ages and find me cold. I have a few things to say in my own defence:

Here’s one sample of the kind of people to whom I am deliberately rude. They come and literally cringe and fawn to get their children admitted to my tuitions (it disgusts me to see how little pride they have at that point of time, and how ‘unbusy’ they are – no matter whether they are doctors or engineers, and whether they have big houses and fancy cars and ‘important’ offices to hold); they pay for the course, and then, once the tuition period is over, they – sometimes both parents and children – cannot even recognize me on the street, leave alone offer a civil greeting, even over the phone! The worst of these types are those who, after years of cold shouldering, suddenly turn up at my door at the oddest hour to claim special privilege or admission for some relative, because I tutored them (or their children) years ago – in one case a man who had ignored me for thirteen years at a stretch despite living at a stone’s throw from my house suddenly appeared with such a request! Then there are ex-students who suddenly arrive to claim special attention (meaning free counsel!) for some sort of competitive examination they are appearing for, after six or eight years of complete silence and neglect. Needless to say, I shoo off these people, leaving no doubt in their minds about just how much I despise them, and making sure they’ll never come again. If that makes me ill-mannered and unsocial, I am content. I know I shall never gain anything worthwhile from such people anyway, and they will either ignore or abuse me behind my back no matter what I do for them, so the less I know of such people and the less thankless service I give them the better for me! At this age, as a devoted family man, I work only for love or money, and I find absolutely nothing wrong about that: if any man works with some other motive, he is either a nobler man than me or a fool. In any case, I don’t want to be like him.
As to whether I am really a cold and unloving man or not does not depend on the ignorant or malicious opinion of the above kind. I have scores of ex-students and their parents with whom I have over the years developed closer bonds than one can find in most families. Some of these relationships are now decades old, and have grown warmer and stronger over the years, as we have got to know one another ever better, and gone through a great deal of ups and downs together. But I shall admit this much: I give back profusely, but only when I receive goodness first. These ex-students whom today I love so much and am so grateful to for more favours than I can count or even remember never fell out of touch, or did so only briefly, and made very handsome amends thereafter when they got back – in word, deed and kind! Also, they have not become snobs without having done anything to be really proud about. I have found them to be good people, I consider myself blessed that there are so many of them, that their numbers keep growing every year, and I look forward to many years of happy and close interaction and mutual help with them. I keep wondering every year, as several batches become ex-students, just how many of them will join that list of very close friends in the years to come. It is they who make me feel rich beyond the dreams of avarice; it is they who have saved me from becoming a misanthrope, despite all the badness I have seen.
But I have two grouches to put on record. One is that – considering the number of people I have taught or otherwise helped out since I was a teenager myself – the number of such close bonds I have developed is woefully small. I know good things are always rare, I myself keep telling everybody that diamonds are far more scarce than coals, that is why they are so much more valuable, and yet I cannot help feeling that maybe a lot more people might have bothered to keep in touch. This, especially because so many of my old boys keep telling me that they have friends who once attended my tuitions (or classes in school) and have good memories, but now they feel scared about what kind of welcome they might get if they try to get back in touch after all these years. I am writing to assure all those that the welcome will be warm enough if I feel there is a genuine urge to get back, rather than a prickly desire to defend themselves for having been remiss. Wrong, in my eyes, can always be amended, as soon as one is willing to admit wrongdoing without reservation, without hiding behind lame and silly excuses like ‘I have been busy’. The second – and I am sorry if this raises a lot of hackles, but I am talking cold facts here – is that, although I have taught almost as many girls as boys continuously for 27 years, and although I know I have always treated girls just the same as boys (in fact, lots of my old boys grouch that they had felt the girls got more indulgence and affection from me), and although girls have habitually gushed much more than boys while they were attending my classes, so many more old boys bother to keep in touch than old girls do! And I am tired and sick of hearing the excuses: how can women not feel ashamed of saying they couldn’t keep in touch for years and years together, even by letter, email or phone, because they were ‘busy’, while at the same time insisting that I ought to believe them when they claim that they too have just the kind of good memories as the boys do? The proof of the pudding is always in the eating! – Also, the very fact that a few girls do bother to keep in touch gives the lie to the claim that somehow it is difficult or impossible for women to maintain old ties in our society: the obvious thing to conclude is that women, unlike men (though they can shed far more copious tears far more easily and frequently) as a rule care far less about matters emotional than men do. My wife – who is even more of a woman-hater than I am! – insists that this is true: with rare exceptions women, she says, live only for the moment, for their immediate friends and relatives, and for material satisfactions alone. But I have still not given up hoping. I hope that this post will not only go some way to explain to some of my old girls (and boys) why they find me so wary and aloof when they suddenly knock, say, 18 years after they last saw me, and I still dream that reading this post will induce some of them to get back to me in a way that I can sharply revise my views of humanity in general and womankind in particular for the better. I am raising a daughter, you see, and I want her to be a good, strong, all-round human being, not a typical (and despicable) woman, nor like all the uncouth young men who once crowded my drawing room merely for some notes while inwardly hating me and everything I stood for, or cursed me because I couldn’t take them in!


Raunak said...

Whatever you have written in this post is true to the core. I would have done the same thing if i were in your shoes.I just dont understand why some of your ex-students(even some of my friends for that matter) feel "afraid" to talk to you.Only god knows what makes them feel this way.

Personally, i feel that this post was not required from your side. The fact that you wrote it speaks a lot about you and i certainly hope that few of those, who hesitate to come forward, will break their wrong notions and move a step towards you.

Aritra said...

Your blog clearly tells us how ungrateful and mean people can be. You are not cold or rude to anyone. To tell the truth you treat people their way. Infact you are a teacher who is really caring about his students. It was really a great experience spending those twenty months with you. And as far as I am concerned it has always been a joy, talking to you.
With Warm Regards

Sayantani said...

Dear Sir,

I’ve thought this often enough while reading through your posts that you strangely resemble my father. Love for books, philosophy, ideology, romanticism, interest in communicating with children and youth, being a fond father to a daughter and many other things actually. And my recent most discovery is that there is a cute child in your matured self (this post shows it :-)). I often (or rather most of the times) shower my motherly affections on my father rather than daughterly. Baba is my li’l cute baby! I suppose you two could become great friends if you met each other :-).

Coming to your teacher self, you remind me of a very important person in my life: Sabu Sir. He is a simple school teacher in a remote NTPC colony in Orissa. I had been his student for three years – classes 8, 9 and10. He taught us History, Civics and Economics. His methods and techniques were unique. He used to enter the class free-handed and would start telling us stories, oops, start teaching us History. With a twinkle in his eyes, he would tell us all of it in amazing accuracy. He never sought to beating to control his class: he would point out the fault of a student with such intensity and earnestness (peering down like Dumbledore) that he didn’t have to repeat himself twice. He taught us rationalism and renaissance with so much magnificence that I discovered a new self in me. It was his teaching that inspired me towards Economics so much so that even now I’m considering to take it up as a subject after plus two. I send him letters and greeting cards even now and life seems to be sometimes blind-founded without his enlightening company. Precisely, my second father…

I can’t think of a good reason why your girl-students aren’t in touch with a wonderful teacher like you. But to assure you about the daughter you are growing up with so much care, I must let you know that I’m still in touch with my Sanskrit and English teachers of my previous school in addition to Sabu Sir. They write me back and sometimes even call me. I told you about Sabu sir because I thought you’d like to know about him. He said us that he never expected anything from his students in matters of regards and remembrances because he was tired of expecting while getting nothing in return. I’m too young to advice you, but may be, you have realised by now that humanity is an exception in the present time. And the exceptions are still in contact with you…


P.S.:- Thanks for your inspiration at Sudipto’s blog! I was overwhelmed!

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Many thanks, Sayantani. Yes, indeed, I'd probably have made friends easily with your father if we got to know each other well. I hope I shall get to know you a little better over time. You are Sudipto's friend, aren't you? I don't think we have met. This is what I find both surprising and galling: that people like you should find time to write and say nice things though they haven't yet met me in person, whereas there are so many who have known me and ought to have good memories, but just cannot bother to keep in touch!

Anshu Singh said...

I would like to mention a small conversation i was dragged into by a IIT'an.
The person had been quite intrigued by me for the past two days.Finally he approached me trying to strike up a conversation on some "I know" topics.
The first sentence he said was
" Suppose i am an interviewer and i am asking you these questions, so please answer me as if you are answering an interviewer" (Such a diplomatic way to start)
Anyways, i replied " Ok if you want me to"
He then asked me the golden question " What do you want to do in your life"
(ha,ha,ha, i coud not help laughing within)
I replied " Nothing "
"So you do not want to do anything in your life for how long?"
"i do not know"
" one month, two month, three month....one year?"
" i said, and am repeating again, i do not want to do anything in my life. i am waiting for my calling as patiently as i can, within my own limitations."
" so you are using a different terminology, that's it"
"No the phrase which you were using is quite different from the word i have used."
Looks on with a straight face " So whose call are you waiting for?"

And this person teaches physics.God help the kids who are goign to study under him.

I give up then and there, as i had run out of patience.
i thought that it's really better to talk with the book-seller,karim, in Nehru Place who does not pretend to be an Intellectual.