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Friday, October 01, 2010

Another troubling online chat

I virtually forced myself on an old boy the other night over g-chat, asking him whether he had elected to forget me (seeing that he – like so many others – used to be close to me once upon a time, and now it has been years since he emailed me, or rang me up, leave alone visited me). He sounded most contrite, and tried very hard, poor boy, to convince me that I had got it all wrong, he remembered me most vividly and thought of me very often, and had often felt like reviving the connection.

Then he confessed something that made me very sad. He said that he was suffering from a very deep sense of inferiority and inadequacy which had prevented him from calling all this time. He had, he said, managed to become nothing more than one of those ‘cybercoolies’ I publicly sneer at so often, despite having dreamt big dreams once, and he couldn’t, he said, come over and face me until he had ‘achieved’ something he could be proud of.

Since I have apparently not been able to make my outlook on life clear enough even to old boys with whom I once spent hundreds of hours as a teacher, let me try once more to explain just where I stand.

1.      I do not despise any honest profession at all, so God forbid that I should despise anybody simply because he has got a job in the IT-industry. All that I sneer at is people preening about such jobs as though it spells the last word in success. As long as an IT-worker admits that he is just making a living doing a pedestrian job and makes no more bones about it, I have absolutely nothing against him: I shall wish him quick promotions, bigger pay and all the happiness he can find!
2.      I judge people – and especially my own old boys and girls – not by their pay packets and official designations and which industry they are in, but by whether they seem to be happy and have managed to become socially valuable, in however humble a capacity. So I shall be glad to hear from anyone who has managed to become ‘only’ a government clerk but paints or sings and gives a bit to charity, or a primary school teacher whose pupils adore her.
3.      On the other hand, I shall treat as scum any old boy or girl who has managed to become a crooked business tycoon like Ramalinga Raju, or a cabinet minister who has been several times to jail on charges of murder, arson, rape, fraud, blackmail and suchlike. That is most definitely not how I measure success. Likewise for someone who has become a faceless bureaucrat or middle-level corporate manager who cannot claim any achievement of a moral, artistic, intellectual or spiritual kind, whose only identity is his paycheck, and whom nobody knows outside his factory/office and housing complex.
4.      Besides, as I have recently said in a comment on one of my blogposts, not one of my ex-students has become a success anyway, if success is measured by great wealth, power and fame, of the J.K. Rowling/Sachin Tendulkar/Tom Cruise/Manmohan Singh sort. So why should anyone think that I want to hear only from ex-students who have made it big (haven’t I myself said that much of that kind of success depends upon sheer luck)? Do my students ever really listen to me? I wonder…
5.      If a teacher has loved his old boys and girls as an elder brother or father would love his younger siblings or children, how can it be that he would want only his ‘highly successful’ ex-students to stay in touch with him? If that is how my own pupils have judged me, I have obviously not managed to convey either my love to them or the significance of that kind of love – and what else can make a teacher like me feel more wretched?
6.      Finally, as I have hinted or directly said again and again on this blog itself, some of the people I most like and admire are people who are far more humble and ‘ordinary’ than my ex-students, people like roadside vendors of fast food and rickshaw pullers and maidservants and very petty shopkeepers and police constables – because I have seen in them the human qualities that I most value, to wit courage, simplicity, honesty, diligence at work, patience in the face of suffering, kindness, gratitude, good cheer, innate wisdom and self-possession, because I firmly believe that such sturdy sons and daughters of the soil are worth far more to a nation which wants genuine progress than all the ‘educated’ bhadraloks who think much more highly of themselves than what their contribution to social welfare warrants. If even that does not persuade my hesitant ex-students to get back to me, I fear nothing will.


priyam mitra said...

Sir,are we the makers of our destiny? Or sir,are we predestined?
this question often came to my mind but i could not find any suitable result.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

How does this question fit in here, Priyom?

Anyway, since you asked, in my opinion the answer is that nobody really knows. For some people most things seem to go according to plan lifelong, for others it's one long unpredictable roller-coaster! Besides, 'predestination' is not the same as blind chance...

Arya said...

What an amazing post! I am simply awestruck....I guess you are the first person who actually had courage enough to speak about the true parameters to judge success. It's wonderful, Sir. Keep up the good job.

Yours faithfully,

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thank you, Karnika.

I have received a most touching email from an old boy in connection with this post, but unfortunately I have been told it cannot be posted as a comment here. Sad, but so be it!

Shilpi said...

Suvro da,

I've been thinking: what would be really nice is if some of your old boys and girls were to get back in touch with you after reading this post....but then again - you've said the same over and over again in different ways, so I don't know whether some of your students are likely to gladden your heart by dropping you an e-mail after reading this.

I never was your student so I know it doesn't matter whether I yell and insist that forgetting you or not keeping in touch with you is not really an option. And of course one knows that you detest trumpet blowers whether they have or do not have trumpets and that you admire people who are meant to be admired and that your love for your old students has nothing to do with how successful they are by worldly standards. Even I know these bits even though most of the many other huge pieces puzzle the living daylights out of me.

Hmm. Hope some nice and balanced ex-students get back to you with gratitude, love, and fond memories.

Take care.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

It's not really about achieving anything, Shilpi (most people find out by age 30 that they were never meant to achieve anything mentionable anyway). This is how it actually works: a lot of ex-students fall out of touch, for no real reason that they can come up with, for years at a stretch. By the time they are old enough to start longing anew to see me again, they remember that I had predicted that this was exactly what was going to happen, and they had all clamoured 'No Sir, I'll be different, you'll see', and now they are too abashed to renew the connection, afraid that they would be in for a tongue-lashing. A few are brave enough to try nevertheless, but that's very few indeed.

The worst case is the type who, in the first flush of growing up and imagining that they had learnt a lot, said some silly and rude things to me (typically while in college or the very early days of working life), and when they are old enough to be aghast at what they did, they can't dream of getting back once more, even if they might very much like to!

Anirban said...

Dear Suvroda

I could not resist the temptation to write my comments in Bengali..'kaaron aami moneprane bangali':)

Khub bhalo laglo tomar lekhata pore..aar, aaro bhalo laglo eta jene je aekjon aekhono aachen, jini shotti kotha bolte janen..ebong porishkarbhabe..aar tar thekeo boro kotha -take aami chini.
Aaamar porichoy-1994 sale pass korechilam St.Xaviers theke..na tomar aamay mone rakhar kotha noy..tomar sathe aamar kotha hoto library -te:)

Bhalo theko

Anirban Banerjee

Subhasis Graham Mukherjee said...

this blog hits home hard given what my family is going through now. first, the two things of special significance here -

1. Suvro has gone out of his way to get in touch with an old boy and find out how he's doing. This is support, counselling, guidance much after the initial professional service requirements - no one does this, it's not paid for but most tragically, it's thought of as not required.

2. the old boy is "suffering from a very deep sense of inferiority and inadequacy". Could be a serious issue which needs someone like Suvro to reach out.

Our son Drew (Satadru) (in final year of university), returned from a happy and enjoyable trip from India with his mom and sister, to find out that his best and closet friend, Ryan Saari, committed suicide the very same day. It's been very tough for both families.

Drew and Ryan knew each other from high school - I used to give ride to both kids to school. They were both in the advanced program in high school named International Baccalaureate - which gave an advantage in further studies in North American and international institutions. They started Comp Sci. at University of British Columbia. Pretty soon Ryan got disinterested (first signs of the need of professional help and counseling) and left UBC. He joined the more hands-on and applied technology school of the region, BCIT, to pursue studies in computers. Drew carried on but changed to Math. Ryan also started working. He enjoyed his work, they like him at work and kept him on - he was doing great. He was also doing great at BCIT, and was in his last term. But he didn't want to complete (second sign). Ryan was also very talented in digital photography and video editing and production. He loved nature and would wait hours to get the right composition to shoot - had a wonderful collection, some of which were used in his memorial services presentation.

Both families are at a loss for answers. He was a bit of recluse and not the social type. Some of the signs that were consistent were his lack of enthusiasm and hope for the future. He didn't seem to find anything to look forward to. but, in general, a very normal boy with some mood swings and 'a bit weird' thoughts and actions which are not not odd for kids that age at all.

His IB program coordinator (now retired) showed up at the memorial service after reading the news in the local newspaper.

If only she or any other of Ryans 'old' teachers had checked on the old boy and reached out - things may have been different today. Not putting pressure on the teachers, but just that parents themselves are quite inadequate and helpless in some situations. Friends are not that helpful either in quite a few cases and are in the same maturity category. Teachers would be the only experts who deal with subjects like these year after year and are in a unique position to help and guide.


Suvro Chatterjee said...

Anirban, Many thanks for writing. No matter that I cannot remember you: if you are interested, the net can very easily help us to get re-acquainted. I'm sorry that I did not reply in Bangla, but that is only because I find it awkward to write it in English. Keep commenting!

Subhasis, glad you wrote. I am very deeply sorry for the boy who killed himself: I'm sure it was most traumatic for your son, too. I shall pray for both the living and the dead. It is sometimes the greatest pity that young people are driven to suicide. And thanks for the kind and understanding words. I am blessed that so many young people do get the feeling now and then that if nobody else is willing to listen to their troubles, I am available. My tragedy is that every so often, once their immediate need (which may continue for years at a stretch sometimes) is fulfilled, they forget me completely. Doesn't improve my opinion of mankind as I keep growing older. I once brooded much over the question 'Who will cry when I die?' Now I often think, What the hell does it matter?

sayantika said...

Dear Sir,
I am one of those students who have fallen out of your grace and I blame myself for it. I had been too lazy, I must confess. Sorry sir, for being so. I had tried to get in touch a few years ago, but that did not work out. I would try a second time.
Recently, I came across your blogs and I read some of them. It's like re-visiting the old classes. And I must agree that whatever you have said here and taught us are absolutely correct.
Many experiences of mine have proved it.
1. Most people that I have met are averse to reading anything but textbooks. One of my colleagues expressed his surprise when he found out that I had read Tagore's Galpoguchho. This despite the fact that my father laments that I do not read as much as I should.
2. Most of people can't accept anything beyond stereotypes. As I don't have piercings in ears, many of my friends, relatives have expressed their shock and were highly concerned about how I would wear earrings during my wedding. I found myself laughing to see how concerned they were about so trivial an issue.
3. Most people have nothing important to speak about. In office, I am amazed that people can talk for more than half an hour about what food to eat for dinner.
Your blog is inspiring me to write more and add to the number of posts in my blog.
At present, I am working with Hindustan Times in Kolkata. I enjoy my work, but I don't like the way everything works here. It's very different from Delhi office, where I had been trained for two months.
Thanks and with regards,
Sayantika Mandal

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Sayantika, welcome back to the fold. It is with the hope that I can get back in touch with the best of my ex-students that I keep on writing on this blog! I never said 'Go away' to you, remember.

As intelligent and thoughtful people regardless of age can sense, the world, with all its commercial dazzle and technological 'progress', is becoming an ever poorer place, in the sense of humans becoming more and more crude and mindless. This blog is one man's effort to bring together in happy communion (and perhaps a bit of relief) some people who still very badly feel the need for mentation and true emotion. Those of you who have been my pupils rightly recognize that it is a seamless extension of what I have always tried to do in my classes. Remember Mrs. Browning's chilling lines: Ill fares the land, to hast'ning ills a prey/ where wealth accumulates, and men decay.

Keep commenting. For communication of a more private nature, there is email. If you have a blog of your own, do please send me the link.
Love and best wishes,

sayantika said...

Dear Sir,
I am happy to come back to the fold. Yes it's true that the world is engrossed with progress, which, as you had said that is measured by the number of apps in cell phones. Arnold had said it long ago when he lamented "…..for the world, which seems/To lie before us like a land of dreams,/So various, so beautiful, so new,/Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain", hadn't he?
And my blog link is http://sayantika1.wordpress.com/

Thanks and with regards,

Anupam said...

Hello Sir,
I have always been an ardent follower of your blog,though not a regular one.I belong to the 2004 pass out batch, and as a matter of fact was never your student(If attending your classes made me one).I always wanted to learn English from you and even approached you for your tuition classes.Unfortunately and as it should be, you batch was already overpopulated with students.As a reason I could never attend your classes,and perhaps this is something I will regret throughout my life.I approached you on orkut,but sadly you never accepted my friend request as you couldn't recognize me and perhaps I was foolish enough to write something as silly as"Scars are souvenirs you never LOOSE "on my orkut profile. Perhaps it was my negligence for the language or perhaps because I couldn't make myself recognized,you rejected my friend request. I never approached you after that mishap. Nevertheless I always admired you and your ideals in whatever capacity I understood them.
In certain sense my reply would be misfit in this context,Pardon me if it does sound misfit. As I have already mentioned I wanted to learn English from you but never got the opportunity.I couldn't reply to many of your posts as I was not confident with my English.
Whatever happens I will continue to follow your blog and try to learn and imbibe from it.Pardon me if I have made mistakes somewhere.

It will be of utmost honor if you go through my photo albums.

Anupam Banerjee.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thank you for writing. Don't fret about not attending my classes - a lot of those who do end up learning nothing, because they never wanted to learn anything! They were only interested in shortcuts to marks in exams...

As for orkut, this is nothing personal. I have practically stopped accepting friend requests there simply because most 'orkut friends' have no conversation at all. Much better to stay in touch through my blogs. And there is always email for more personal conversations.

Your comment, by the way, is certainly not a 'misfit' here, because it is the likes of you whom I had wanted to draw back to me through this post!

Good luck.

DEBARATI said...

Dear Sir,
I don't know what more to add after going through all these comments. But I certainly agree with most of them about the fact that you have braved writing about "progress" as the commercial world today defines it. So far your earnestness in staying in touch with your students is concerned, I guess, you are the first teacher I have come across in my life who is not only eager to keep in touch with his students but also takes a deep interest about them, years after they have stopped visiting your classes. Some people like me dread to fall out of contact with her and professors while those 'teachers' hardly care about their ex-students. We matter till the point we fill their pockets. People like you, on the other hand, express remorse because the students tend to forget you. What a shame, isn't it?

Aren't we blessed enough to come across at least one teacher like you in our life? I guess we are.

All those ex-students who are reading this blog and this comment of mine, here goes my earnest request:
Please post a comment or write a mail to this person, who expected nothing from us, except some humanity(and all that this little word encompasses). I met this person 9 years after I left his classes. I was hesitant to speak but I braved, nonetheless, to face him. I had chalked out in my mind in that fraction of a second what reference to give him to jog his memory(considering the fact that my name is too common). Trust me, all the while I was sitting in front of him, it seemed I just graduated the other day! It was he who made me comfortable.

So gear up and tell this man that you care(if you really do, I mean).
He is not a person to fall out of touch with. I am sure everyone would agree with me on this.

Thanks for allowing me to be your student,

debotosh said...

sir, the problem with the kind of ex students you have described is that they think they are "achieving" something because "everybody"(god knows who they talk about) wants them to , not because they feel an irresistible urge to go for a particular field ! once they get mixed in the vast pool of such like minded ones they start feeling the heat and uselessly try and increase their "brand value" by all sorts of non sense . the quoted words were said by one of your very favourite students who incidentally happened to be one of the "toppers" of st. xavier's in 2008 !