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.