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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

On being mean, and petty, and foolish

Despite being publicity-shy, I put up a sign in front of my house seven or eight years ago, with ‘Suvro-sir’ on it, and an arrow pointing to my house, and my phone number below.

I was forced into doing it because I had been hearing complaints from literally scores of people every year that nobody had given them my address and phone number (so that they could contact me to admit their children to my tuition); that even some of my neighbours, when asked about me – these are people who have known me for decades, mind you – blandly said they had never heard about me. The same with some people who had been colleagues in a school for fourteen years.

Of course, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out why people should behave like this. One group thinks ‘Why should I tell another person about a good tutor? Suppose his boy/girl ends up getting more marks in exams than mine?’ while another consists of those who think ‘That man is making too much money anyway, why should I help him along by sending a few more people to him?’

The same category consists of people who, while worshipping money above all other gods, habitually try to buy things on credit from their grocer and eventually don’t pay if they can help it; boast loudly about how they have saved a few miserable rupees by haggling like fisherwomen with rickshawwallahs and porters, think that the height of socializing is dolling themselves up for wedding receptions, never read a book in their lives once they have passed their last examinations, tell their kids to steal my notes if they can from some of their friends who attend my tuitions while blithely telling their neighbours they didn’t send the kids to me because they know what a bad man and poor teacher I am, spread the vilest gossip about their own ‘friends’ and relatives, eat at parties as though they are starving beggars, and come in cars wearing jewellery worth lakhs to admit their kids yet dare to ask me ‘aksho taka com hobe na Sir?’ (could I pay a hundred rupees less?). And when I occasionally get to hear about what they do to their husbands/wives/children/in-laws at home, oh Jesus!

These are also the very same people who tell one another that I provoke the kids against their parents. Guilty as accused, because one of my highest aims as a teacher is to make slightly better parents of the next generation, so that the world becomes a trifle less filthy. All I shall add as a correction is that I don't actually provoke them, I only ask them to observe, think and judge for themselves, not blindly swallowing everything that guardians say as necessarily good and true.

That is how petty, how mean, how foolish people can be (yes, foolish, too, because even after all these years they haven’t been able to make the slightest difference to my career, and they are too dumb even to figure that out and desist). I wouldn’t have minded, except for the fact that all these people regard themselves as educated, worldly-wise bhadralok, and hate me because I mock the whole tribe routinely in class, and say that they make me puke, and insist that the kids will have got no education worth the name if they grow up to be equally trivial and disgusting human beings.

A very great man said it’s a sin to lose faith in man. But the older I grow, the harder it becomes to keep the faith. The great misanthrope Jonathan Swift said about his friend Dr. Arbuthnot, who was apparently a very good man, that if he knew ten men like the doctor, he’d gladly burn all his books. I find myself increasingly inclining to the same opinion of my fellow human beings. Especially as I see that most of my kids, despite my best efforts, become clones of the worst kind of parents as they grow up.

I have been writing this with full responsibility. For the last fifteen years, I have been a parent myself, and one of the very few things that I am truly proud of is that my daughter is not growing up what they call nyaka-boka in my native language… that she already knows there is much to hate and despise about this country, and she needs to strive lifelong to keep herself from sinking in the same mire. I have also been trying to sensitize her to whatever little goodness we see around us, and to treasure it, because it is so rare. 


Dipanwita Shome said...

Dear Sir,

You are, I must say on reading this, in very good company. I am sorry I have nothing good to say about the people you are talking about, I can’t bring your faith back in humanity because I have seen quite the same thing happening where I come from. Ira Pishi taught me and my sister and therefore ended up being flocked by most of those who I care about, so that their children could score well, not realizing that Ira Pishi was hardly a machine churning out good marks, that she taught far more important things and that good performance in children required far more dedication from parents than they were ready to give. Consequently, when their children could not do as well, it was Ira Pishi’s fault. Apparently, she was partial towards us. Stealing notes, not giving the address to others and suchlike are stories of yore with me. Ira Pishi’s teachings seemed to them to be far too revolutionary and threatening for them, and they withdrew their wards from her tuitions and told a number of lies about her, even insinuating against her character. However, all this and more have not been able to stifle her spirit, and though Pishon is no more, the family’s hardships in poverty have borne fruit. Mamonididi is a teacher in a school that is keen on making her the next principal, and Babaidada works with L&T and has a wonderful wife and child. Ira Pishi lives alone with her head held high. She continues to give tuitions and looks after herself with aplomb. She is currently teaching two exceptionally slow children with her characteristic dedication and love.


Shilpi said...

I think there are people there who would rather pretend that you're not there. You most likely remind them how insignificant and worthless they are. And there are probably spiteful others who can't bear to acknowledge that you've established yourself as an independent teacher away from any school or institution.

What disgusts me the most and horrifies me actually, and has been ringing in my head at odd intervals through the day is the 'aksho taka com hobe na'. Course it would be too much to expect such people to even know what respect and self-respect mean. Another thing is that I can't for the life of me figure out how all those sick people that you mention and the same disgusting types justify their existence on the planet. I've wondered about this often but haven't got any closer to finding any answer.

I'm not particularly good in terms of giving hope or keeping the faith. I know I felt like a curmedgeonly misanthrope back in college especially but then I've seen and felt, and for real too how one human being can indeed make a difference, and it isn't insignificant in terms of shaping or contributing or influencing or creating human lives. I know I haven't commented on your older post on teachers but if even a few of your students realize and remember what you've taught them and if some of them can't or don't forget and pass them on, that would be some consolation. It would be good if circumstances were different, and I can only vaguely imagine how wearisome or bitter you get when you do but then I'm thinking of your post with which you started the New Year as well, so maybe there might be some bright drops that you can see and look forward to.

As for your last bit: any human being who has mindfully thought about children will realize what parenting implies, and as I never tire of telling myself and to anyone who cares to listen, teaching and parenting along with a couple of other rare professions (possibly medicine and law maybe) can be rightfully termed a 'calling'. And as for your daughter, nyaka-boka is something I can't see her being. I keep hoping and praying that she also finds a few like-minded friends along her path of life...

Better end this massive comment for now. It feels odd to thank you for writing this post, but thank you all the same.

santanu Chatterjee said...

all i need to tell them is:
"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings."
I may sound regionalist, but as far as i have observed with my limited experience with different communities, a gujrati or a marwarhi would have been much more accommodative.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Dipanwita, thanks. Your reminiscing about Ira Pishi took me back to your blogpost about her, and to write a comment there.

Shilpi, just one story for now. A few years ago, I charged Rs. 100 as admission fee. There was a man who changed his mind after admitting his daughter, and wanted the money back. To collect that Rs. 100, he rang up three times, then drove 40 km up and down. Not a poor man, either, but a mid-level manager in a large public sector company, the sort who talk a great deal about being 'busy men', too...

Santanu, so glad to see you can remember pertinent lines from Shakespeare so many years down the line! You are quite right about the Gujaratis and Marwaris: they understand give and take, whereas we Bengalis think it's much smarter to only take, with no thought of giving. And speaking ill of others, especially those who are better off and better known, is certainly a much more virulent disease among us: I don't care how regionalist that sounds, as long as it is the truth. I have had very few Sikh and Marwari and Tamil students (or their parents) bad-mouthing me. If I ever rent out my flat, the last option would be a Bengali family!

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Hmm... no more comments. Let me try to guess why. One group - the decent people - cringe to read about what disgusting experiences I have had, and can't think of anything to say. The other group think 'He's talking about me/my parents! Is that really how bad we look or sound to other people?'

Have I missed out anybody?

Suvro Chatterjee said...

In connection with the allegations that I turn children against their parents (very frequent in this overgrown village I live in!), I just found out what Woodrow Wilson, sometime President of Princeton and later President of the United States had said about universities: 'The use of universities is to make young gentlemen as unlike their parents as possible'. Which also reminds me that Russell said 'If all children had always listened to their parents, we would still be swinging from the trees!' But of course, the average parent in Durgapur would have become a civilized human being if s/he could even understand what these great men were saying...

Sunandini Mukherjee said...

Dear Sir,
Your post reminded me of an incident which now explains me why you find it so hard to keep faith in man.Three years back I was coming to your class from the school and there were two more girls with me.In the way we met one of our school-teachers who asked me where I was going(since she knew that I lived in DPL).On my saying that I was going to your house she said"Suvro sir?R kono teacher pelina?"and then without waiting for another minute hurried away while I shouted"Na pelam na. apnar kono problem ache?"Later in the class I had narrated you this incident and you had told us that you had helped this woman once and had also praised her artistic skills which,it seemed she was determined to forget.Most of the people around us are ungrateful(I have seen my parents helping people,poor and well-off,in whatever way they can but hardly any one those people came back to help my parents or even say a thankyou!)but talking ill of somebody who has never harmed you is something that really baffles me.
I would also like to say Sir that instead of provoking us against our parents you have always urged us to know them better and try to become better parents ourselves.In fact I have come to know that my parents are different and far ahead of most other parents in thoughts and actions which makes me hold them in high regard than ever before.Thankyou Sir for encouraging us to think and act.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

nihshaartho bhabe porer khoti kora (harming others totally without selfish interest) is what we are particularly good at, especially we Bengalis, Sunandini. So this woman - and hundreds of others like her - doesn't surprise me at all, though it does feel bad to think there are so many of her type around, and many more women than men, too...

I am lucky, on the whole, that I have got a lot of thanks and lasting gratitude for what I have done for others (and not just students). But the sheer numerical superiority of the ingrates makes one wonder why the good Lord created us like that.

Yes, of course I don't criticise parents as a tribe. Why should I? But it is a fact that a lot of people are afraid that if children as they grew up learnt to look more critically at their parents, they might not be able to 'respect' them any more, a lot of them in a country like ours, filled with crooks and cheats and bullies and liars who are all parents too... besides, one cannot remain a true teacher without having his sights firmly fixed on the future, his aim being to make better citizens and parents than have gone before. So I know just what I do, why I do it, and feel no compunction at all about carrying on the same way until I die. That is what conviction means, after all, one does something because one deeply feels it is the right thing to do, regardless of other people's opinions.