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Saturday, January 07, 2012

Thoughts for the new year

For quite a few years now I’ve been noticing that after a prolonged vacation (which means anything more than a week) I begin to itch quietly to go back home and get back into the regular round of daily tuitions by which I have been earning my bread for ages. I think it really has gotten into my blood now. It’s true that I often get tired and frustrated and temporarily bored with the routine, and sometimes very angry or unhappy indeed with my pupils for being dull, inattentive, forgetful, lazy and what have you, and sometimes even curse fate for having tied me to this grind lifelong, but who knows, Providence might really know better what is good for us than we ourselves do. We’ve noticed again and again too that when I am slightly ill, nothing makes me bounce back to full potential as a session in the classroom: no pill or pep talk from my family works half as well!

In any case, one cannot, after three decades, help becoming a creature of habit. When I used to tell some parents some time back that I was looking forward to retirement, and that I’d give it another ten or fifteen years at the most, some of them smiled and said, ‘You’d never be able to stop completely. People won’t let you. Besides, everyone needs some work to live by, even if it is no longer essential to make a living.’ Who knows but these people were prescient! Looking at many people who are very old and have been living utterly idle lives for decades and slowly growing ever more senile, I can only shudder. I don’t know how they have coped with being totally unoccupied and useless for so long, but I know this much for sure – just one year of it would drive me up the wall. I must keep working, just to stay sane and enjoy living as long as I am around: much better to die in harness relatively young (in one’s sixties, I mean) than to hang on to be a doddering old fool in his late eighties.

I also used to say I’ll work but I’ll change my vocation and try to do something I like much more, but these days even that makes me wonder. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. What else am I good at, what else would I rather do? Write, yes, if I do find a large and eager enough audience – which is unlikely – or teach, perhaps younger people, needier people, if that brings greater satisfaction, a greater sense of giving back. But these days I can’t think of much else that I’d rather do, besides raising grandchildren, that is.

Life has been good to me, on the whole. It comes home to me with greater force with every passing year, watching people my age, younger and older so hassled and so frustrated all the time – even if they hold high office and earn large incomes and can boast of great honours. To have such a combination of decent earning and good health and peaceful family and leisure and freedom is not given to many of us, especially in this day and age. I am writing this down because I want to come back to it again and again when I am feeling blue: I do have much to be thankful for, things could have been much, much worse, and few other lifestyles could have given me so much overall satisfaction, even if I had been earning ten times more, and seen myself mentioned regularly in the papers. It is from an infinitely deep well of wisdom that the Lord’s prayer says ‘Thy will be done’ rather than mine – how little we know until we are very old what we really want, what would really make us happy. I started teaching almost by accident when I was barely out of boyhood, and I have taught so long and so many people and so many different things, and though I’d have gladly done a lot of things differently if circumstances had permitted me (trying to make teaching more interesting both for me and my pupils) I cannot now imagine that I could have ever wanted to do anything else. And to think that I had once fantasized about becoming a neurosurgeon, or a pilot, or a business tycoon or even a statesman…

It’s been a truly bemusing transition, from a very young teacher to an ageing one. Kids may come and kids may go, but I go on forever! At least, what I mean is that my ex-students grow old, but those I constantly deal with are perpetually fresh and lively 14 to 18 – while so many of my ex-es have become dowdy, frustrated, dull and common enough to embarrass me. My one grouch is that when I refer to myself (as I often do these days) in class as the boring old man, many of the kids, both boys and girls, loudly protest that I am neither so old nor boring, which is, I admit, a mild salve to the ego, but they do precious little beyond that, either the girls or the boys, to prove that they really are interested in me as a human being as they used to do twenty years ago (as distinct from a note-churner whom they pay a fee just to pass examinations). One could imagine, in this era of cheap telephones and email, that some few would try to build relationships privately, even if they were too shy to take the plunge in the classroom. It’s hardly very sensible to think that I’d seduce every girl who tried that, and turn every boy into a terrorist or a drug addict – as some silly mothers in my town used to fear once upon a time!

How little we as parents and teachers know what makes a good life when we so pedantically and enthusiastically lecture the children in our charge how they should order their lives to achieve ‘success’! I hope my daughter (and maybe her children) may learn from this, rather than other so-called teachers and friends’ parents, that we elders know too little and sermonize too much – most probably to cover up our own shameful shortcomings and failures! – and that beyond a certain age they are really on their own, and they must follow their hearts, and then accept and gradually grow used to and even start loving what life has given them… if there is any happiness to be found in this world, that’s the only way you can find it.


Debarshi Saha said...

Respected Sir,

Warm regards.A very beautiful post,as usual,Sir..with a difference,as perceived by me.You have introspected and set out your deepest thoughts,just like a very lovely story..in retrospect.A beautiful post,marked with pain-of the deepest sort.Every one of your observations,Sir,are correct..After all is said and done,it is the Lord who fashioned our lives in the likeness of a novel,which one would have to read through..One cannot skip it to the very end..right to the grand finale..Your description,Sir..of some pages of your life-novel..is as enthralling,as it is a work of beauty.

Thank you so much,Sir..for such a post..that addresses chaos,but possesses peace.

Yours obediently,

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Only someone like you could have written a comment like that, Debarshi. Many thanks indeed.

An old character called Jaaneman by his beloved niece in Mujtaba Ali's Shabnam said that you end up a winner if you can watch your own life like a movie. The line has stuck in my memory. So also a poem by Francis Quarles which says

"My soul, sit thou a patient looker-on/ judge not the play until the play is done/ her plot hath many changes:/ each day speaks a new scene, / the last act crowns the play."

Subhanjan said...

I have been alive in this world for an insignificantly short period of 26 years, and have seen very little of life till now. But what I have started to accept is that, somehow, I don’t have complete control of my own life. No matter how much I plan and visualize my future, life is not going to take that course in most cases and that there is absolutely no shortage of surprises for me as I grow older. I have to take life as it comes, try not to regret much, try not to linger in the past, but find out ways to live the present meaningfully so as to ensure that efforts are being given for a better future. But it does not necessarily guarantee that my future will be bright and that I deserve so; the worst may be waiting. A colleague of mine, while being nostalgic of all the dreams and good things of his past, pondered on the fact that from childhood he wanted to be so many things but then became none of them. He said, “My life has been like that of an aspiring potter. Since childhood I have been trying to build up just a small earthen tea pot. And every time I have tried, it has crumbled. Even now, it is crumbling down every time. But still, I have to keep on trying. May be one day I will be able to make one.”

Sir, do not think much of what you are going to do in the years to come. What you have been doing for so many years has got a value greater than many other professions. And that thing was there when you started it as a young boy, and will stay there at any point of time in your future. And I know one thing for sure that ‘teaching’ itself has taught you a lot. What I realize now is that ‘teaching’ is a process of not just imparting knowledge, skill, and wisdom among students, but also a process of self-discovery and self-learning. And that thing creates a constant challenge that can not only be very interesting, but also forcing you to engage yourself in a process of self-development. I am sure that is something that had thrilled you and that drives your energy even today. Therefore, I do not think you can ever live without this. Occasional boredom, fear and lack of energy are normal things. But they will come and go, again and again. What stays in reality is a body and mind that, no matter what comes, has to keep on working all by itself till the last breath as every individual is alone in this world. Everyone has to find happiness in their own selves. But that is a very hard thing to do. In this, I am still a failure. I depend too much on others and other things to find happiness.

Shilpi said...

Hahaha! Subhanjan, I don't think you should talk about Sir's self-development through teaching or try to analyze Sir's process of self-development, and you really shouldn't talk about your "realizations" either (they're not realizations whatever else they may be). Sir was far more self-actualized in his early boyhood to need "forced self-development" (your words more or less) through teaching others. Why he's been teaching is a different question but you should read the post very carefully, at the very least to see whether you understand what he has written instead of writing about yourself and your feelings and your life! This post isn't about you. One can either laugh or wince at your comment.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Shilpi, I did debate for quite some time with myself before putting up your comment, but then I did post it, because, I, unlike Subhanjan, can see the reason for your anger/exasperation/disbelief. What I earnestly hope is Subhanjan will do so too, ten years later if not tomorrow, and then he will have the grace to acknowledge (at least to himself) how silly he had been. Meanwhile, I let him vent his feelings/ruminations, even though they are only very tenuously connected to the blogpost, because after all he's not a bad sort, only lost and confused still. Besides, if I censored out comments too strictly, I won't have comments at all!

And don't you be too prickly about these things: I really am old enough to be able to take care of myself, you know. If someone were really insufferable, I'd only have to block her/him off, as I have blocked off so many already!

You might remember someone - a much older woman, fancies herself as a wise mother and teacher too - had once lectured me to read history, and I had even posted that comment, only very gently remonstrating with her for not having done me justice. The wonder is that so many people, with a tiny fraction of my tolerance, so glibly accuse me of being intolerant! That's why one has to laugh at the world, if one were not to weep all the time.

Subhasis Graham Mukherjee said...

You should consider starting a e-learning/e-tutoring initiative, leveraging your vast experience in teaching, guiding, advising, writing as well as blogging and networking. This would ensure that a system is there which captures the expertise and knowledge and which continues to give both ways. You could launch and run something of your own, or create and administer a system where tutors and students meet and interact in a cyber institution. Check out moodle.org and odijoo.com.

Debarshi Saha said...

Contrary to what you might choose to think,Mr. Sengupta,the universe is not centered around you.About taking control of your future,you should realize that one can only be responsible for one's actions,committed or omitted.Do you really believe that Sir needs to know all this,after reading his blog-post?..You are sadly mistaken.

Still,after reading your comment,I felt..that deep down you do care for Sir..only you might not yet know how to express it..You shall find it someday,I am sure..

A big thank-you again to Sir,for writing this post..The deepest words said so easily,the memories laid out so beautifully,the hymn to the Lord so simple in content,yet so rich in substance..Thank you,Sir.

With warm regards,

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thanks for the tip, Subhasis, but believe it or not, I tried even that, more than a decade ago, when the Net was a rather new thing in India. I had a very tepid response to it. Apparently already people wanted everything free on the net (except perhaps porn, for which there was a surprisingly large number of willing customers), and I couldn't afford that. Besides, all my efforts to find sponsorship and willing colleagues failed: most people I approached were too snugly stuck in their own little grooves to want to make a change which involved innovation, risk and unfamiliar effort. And now I guess I am too old myself: I must plough my lonely little furrow a while longer, that's all. But, as I said, I have reason to be content. The rest of the story will be my daughter's...

Shubho said...

Mr. Mukherjee, I was probably in the 9th standard when Sir had started this e-tutoring thing. The internet was something new to me at that time and I used to get very scared when someone used to tell me that one could get a lot of information through the Web. I used to fantasize the internet as something very difficult to use. I had my first email ID when I was in the 12th standard. So naturally, I could not use the resource that Sir was putting up on the internet for people. But I used to go around boasting of my Sir and telling people that my Sir was doing a very good job by trying to educate people through the internet. But people were least interested in trying to learn anything, and just used to give me a deaf ear. The internet was also something very costly at that time. So they could also be excused. People were not so ready to go to internet cafes for reading something from the internet – rather they would buy books for that. And having a personal internet connection was some sort of a luxury at that time.

However, today that Sir has created this blog and is writing so much of thought provoking material, that too in a time when more or less all educated people have personal computers or laptops and also have personal internet connections (the cost of the internet has gone down in India even though it is one of the costliest in the world) because the average incomes of people have gone up, how many people do you find who comment on Sir’s posts? How many actually read the posts even, let alone commenting? People are too busy with facebook and twitter, Mr. Mukherjee. Why do you think Sir’s blog has got only 230 followers and the facebook and twitter are doing so huge business worldwide? People do not want to be serious. I remember I read in a poem when I was in the 9th standard (I do not remember the name of the poem) that when Shah Jahan was dead, Aurangzeb realized that even kings have to die one day – man is mortal! This came as a shock to Aurangzeb. Today’s non serious people are the immature Aurangzebs. They somehow do not want to realize that life is not a bed of roses, for, if they do so, all this fun and enjoyment will suddenly seem to be so transient. They do not want to realize that all this never lasts till the end. All this has to be left behind. What goes with you is your wisdom, your reputation and yourself – that is all!

When I tell people that I want to go home back to my parents, they sermonize that this is the time when I should build up my career and I should grow. I do not realize what growth is. What will I do by growing so much if I cannot be with the people who have helped me grow when they really need me? Mr. Mukherjee, I have tried so much to inculcate in people an interest for this blog, but strangely, people try to avoid it. We, some of the followers are the only ones that are the really interested people. People simply will not read, believe me! I do not try any more…

After being with Sir for all these years, and after learning from him for all these years, I proudly say today that Sir is my Teacher, not just my English teacher. Everyone’s life has an end, but I earnestly want that people miss you after you are gone Sir.

Hats off to you, Suvro Sir!

Sayan Datta said...

Dear Suvro Sir,
I was going through this post a second time and a thought/question struck me. You know Sir, though I enjoy being in the thick of things most of the time, I get bored at times and feel that if I somehow managed even a month of sabbatical, I would finish about a dozen books half-read, another dozen I have been planning to read, watch and watch again the numerous movies I have always wanted to, take a trip to the Himalayas or down South, visit ancient ruins, and so many other things too numerous to mention. Are my thoughts unjustified? Am I cribbing about my life as it is?
Sayan Datta

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Absolutely normal feelings, Sayan, rest assured. Except that most young people these days, when they are feeling that way, can only think of going to a multiplex to 'take in' a movie (heaven knows why they can't watch one any more), a shopping spree or a drinking binge. Do occasionally get away from it all with a sudden short holiday. If you avoid the tourist seasons, you will find a lot of quiet, restful scenic spots all over the country where you can relax for a couple of days exactly the way you want to. It is guaranteed to re-charge the batteries. You don't necessarily have to go very far from the city either; think of Lava-Lolegaon or Chandipur on sea... end-February is a very good time, mind you!