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Monday, November 15, 2010

Bye bye time again...

The older we grow, the faster time seems to whiz by. It is hard to believe that I wrote a post titled To those about to become ex-students a whole year ago. It’s that time of the year again already when a very large number of pupils, 16 and 18 year olds, are going to leave my classes all together. I would like to say goodbye, thanks, good luck and love you to them, but I don’t want to repeat what I wrote so recently, and besides, I don’t have a lot of new things to say. But since it may sound new to the current outgoing batch, I’d ask them all to click on the above link and read it for themselves.

There were no big surprises this year. I can vouchsay that I have still not slackened up, the way so many teachers do as they grow old: I tried as hard as I could to make my classes both useful and interesting as I have done every year since I started teaching such a long time ago. There were, as always, some irritants, and also a few young people who kept the flame burning with their attention, affection and enthusiasm, so that I could tell myself before going to sleep night after night that it wasn’t a bad job after all.  There were a few girls among them too, which was most gratifying.

But I keep getting more tired and dispirited year after year. And that is only partly due to advancing age (there are many busy and vigorous teachers my father’s age): the tiredness comes mostly from the fact that more and more, no matter how hard I try, things are perforce becoming increasingly mechanical and lifeless because my ‘customers’ want it that way. It has been well said that you can take a horse to the water but you cannot make it drink; that you cannot describe a sunset to a blind man, that people don’t hear what they don’t want to hear. With a lot of people, stories, quizzes, debates, movies, jokes, games, music, nothing seems to work, nothing seems to shake them out of their apathy. Learning, people have decided, cannot be something enjoyable, worth remembering and therefore respecting (and this regardless of subject): it’s all about cramming and getting marks in examinations, only to be forgotten instantly in favour of more ‘interesting’ things (such as money and beauty care and shopping and parties and ‘reality’ shows on television), and therefore, there’s nothing more valuable and enduring to be gotten from a teacher than a few notes and tips and tricks to get through exams without too much effort. Naturally, the teacher’s value dwindles to zero the moment the exams concerned are over! There are, indeed, lots of teachers and tutors around these days (who knows but the majority of them) who have comfortably adjusted with the situation, and don’t care a whit, as long as they get paid in full till the last month, and then they wipe out the memories as quickly as their ex-students and their parents do: they are, I suppose, as happy as men can be. It’s my bad luck that I could never reconcile myself to becoming a mere trader in knowledge… it would have been a far wiser move, when I still had the time to choose, to become a stockbroker instead, because there would have been the prospect of much more money there, at least, than any teacher can hope to make!

Anyway, as I often tell people these days, I can almost see the light at the end of the tunnel. Once my daughter is on her own two feet, and I don’t have to bother much about making a living any more, I shall turn away from this thankless grind. One way to do that would be to take in large batches as I have always done, but with the caveat that after the first three months, I shall turn away most of them, keeping back only the maybe twenty per cent or so who have given ample evidence that they are really keen on learning the way I would like them to be – and their school reports and parental ambitions be damned (ten years down the line the parents will be much junior to me anyway). Added to my savings, they will just about give me enough money for me and my wife to live in a humble style, but I shall certainly enjoy myself a lot more. And all the time I save when I no longer have a seven-days-a-week routine can be happily invested in doing the things I have always loved to do: writing, travelling, watching movies, listening to music, playing with toddlers, getting involved in welfare work, counselling, perhaps learning new things again. It is looking forward to that prospect that cheers me up most these days… after a forty-year marathon, if I live, I guess I shall have earned it.


Shilpi said...


Sayan Datta said...

Dear Suvro Sir,
I have been a teacher for only three years, less than a tenth of the time that you have been one and already I am feeling frustrated at the state of the system and notion of education in our country. I love physics and it was primarily to communicate this love that I started teaching. As anyone who has loved anything dearly knows that love, like truth and beauty, exists solely for its own sake; there isn't, there can't be any ulterior motive. Understand my agony then when I am mistaken sometimes for a person who will make his students get over 90% in board exams and sometimes for one who will make his students get into the IITs (don't you feel like throwing up?). Why is it so difficult to understand that I am simply a teacher who teaches physics? Why do people always have to make things so complicated? Just as any good teacher needs a syllabus not as a crutch but as a loose structure upon which to base his lectures, a good student doesn't really need to prepare specifically for exams. If he loves to study, to know, to understand, the exams take care of themselves.
Have I been cribbing? Enough of it then! As regards this post I can only say that I feel pity for those who miss out on the opportunity of a lifetime to learn and to grow under your tutelage.
I am happy to know that in the coming years you will reserve more time and space for the numerous other activities that you cherish (who says that you haven't earned it!). I pray to God that all your wishes and dreams come true.
Sayan Datta

Subhajit said...

Sir, I enjoyed every moment I spend in your tuition . I hope that we will be in contact even after i leave your tuition ! I am really grateful to spend two years in your company as a student !
- Subhajit

Suvro Chatterjee said...


Many thanks for the kind words. As I always acknowledge, it is the likes of you who make it all seem worthwhile, despite everything.

Sayan (who is at least ten years older, but still in my eyes a small - and very good - boy!), many thanks too, and good luck, because heaven knows you are going to need it. Anyone who enters the profession of teaching these days, unless s/he is a moron or a mercenary (often both) needs luck desperately to survive and stay sane. And stop being surprised at parental attitudes: if any of your students (who claim to be interested in science) expresses a desire to study real science upto a really high level, his parents are going to have heart attacks. They all want their kids to become glorified mechanics (what they call engineers in this country) as quickly as they can, so that they never have to study anything again in their lives... weird indeed as it sounds, 'pride' these days comes from being able to claim that my son has just as little education as my neighbour's son does!

Navin said...

Dear Sir,

You have deserved all the things which you have hoped for in this post and much more. I selfishly also hope that kids other than in durgapur also get to be with you in your old age.

All the best,


Subhasis Graham Mukherjee said...

The challenges and frustrations mentioned in the teaching profession are there in some form in all professions - in most cases a few times more.

At least you'll have to deal with kids whose level of education is known and most of them are trying sincerely to improve with your help.

Contrast that to the world of other professions. After returning to India from US with a MS (and two years of wasted attempt at a PhD), I had to go through the same grind of job search and finding a footing like anyone else. In one of my job interviews, there was a senior manager and another interviewer who I knew very well - a couple of years senior to me from JU Civil, same major as mine. He should have been four years senior, but was a bottom-er and flunked two years. The interview went through some usual questions and after a few exchanges, my 'dada' from JU commented on my choice of doing Industrial Engineering in US after Civil in JU as - "so you lack focus?"

I had to take that and a few other things in the interview from a guy who took two years to clear every major year.

(Of course, I wasn't hired. Those who behave like this do so with the knowledge that they are not going to get in a situation where they would be challenged by the interviewee)

Since then, the educated and professional in me has taken blows like those mentioned above and much worse in both India and Canada - and it still continues in full force. I am surprised that some of the original me is still left after years of crap.

I would say the teaching profession still has some nobility, lesser politics and dirtiness, and way more satisfaction all things considered.

Noodle said...

The four years that I spent at your classes were absolutely delightful, Sir. I tried not to miss even a single lecture; one because you made them look so light, entertaining and informative without it ever being boring. Two, having studied in an all girls convent you were the first man I knew, apart from family.
I remember the story-telling sessions, we so looked forward to. Then there were these recorded speeches that you would make us listen to. “It’s not MOUUTH-A, it’s MOUFFF…It’s not TABLE, it’s THABLE!!” Through froths and endless giggles, we finally did get our pronunciations right. Also, those huge hard-bound books you would pass around, full of pictures and fascinating facts about space and the universe.
A certain incident is still vivid in my memory. I was in Class 9, my first year with you, and you said, “Chitra, you have such a boisterous laugh.” I zipped back home, tore through the pages of the dictionary to find out what it meant. Of course, the meaning was highly disappointing, but it was a new word learnt. :)

- Chitra.

Anand Tiwari said...

Dear Suvro da,

The next time i visit Durgapur, i will contact you before i come so that i can sit in one of your classes. This i say in all seriousness. After reading the comments of some of your students, i am quite sad that i missed having you as a teacher by 1 year. I firmly believe there is no substitute for a good teacher whether one is in KG or doing his Phd. Please continue the good work.


Suvro Chatterjee said...

One more year has passed by, again. I can only say 'Wow!'

Gargi Ghosal said...

Sir, life has got unusually dull as now we are not in touch with you anymore. I actually would wait for our classes every week. The fatigue could not prevent me from attending them. You've been my role model for the past two years, and will always be. The vast that I've learnt from you makes me proud, happy and whatnot! Wish we had a few days more. You actually inspired us, motivated us more than anyone ever can. And most importantly, you understood us the most. Miss you, sir!

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thank you, Gargi. I thought you had forgotten. It is words like yours that warm my tired heart, and I cannot get enough of them. You take care, and all my best wishes and blessings. Come see me when you can...