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Sunday, March 18, 2018

Last free Sunday

Sunday evening. The last free Sunday I shall have for another long season. The admission storm begins next weekend. This year I am as amused as anxious, for I have sensed a panic among hundreds of people phoning and visiting over the last few months, and one ex student, whose own daughter is going to join up, told me the other day that the rumour is that a vast number have enrolled, and most of them are not going to get a chance, so they are sweating blood and losing sleep, while I am a little scared of being mobbed, and at the same time I cannot help laughing at the irony of the fact that my services are so much in demand now that I am less and less interested in carrying on making a more than adequate living. I needed money much more thirty years ago: where were all these people then? What very special service have I given the public lately that the demand (I am sure the right word is craze – I keep telling people ‘do not regard tuition as a shortcut to marks without merit and effort’, and insist that I don’t primarily teach for marks, and remind them that lots of kids get good marks without attending my tuition, but obviously all in vain) has surged like this? These people will do anything to get their kids in, from telling sob stories to flattering me shamelessly and embarrassingly – the only two things they haven’t done yet is offering extra money and threatening physical violence! Yet I know that most of these people will badmouth me foully if their kids can’t get in or are dismissed for some reason at a later date, forget me the moment the tuition is over and often explicitly order the kids never to see me again, and if and when my reputation begins to flag and the numbers dwindle, nobody will care two hoots whether I can survive and look after my family or not. I get more and more why real celebrities privately so despise the same fan mob they profess to adore and thank, and why they are so insecure despite making vast fortunes… think of Sachin Tendulkar today, all of you who are more than thirty, and compare with where he was even ten years ago.

We live in such an incredibly stupid country. A country where ‘educated’ people are so painfully lacking in manners and consideration for others, a country which is so violent and so bigoted despite pretensions to ahimsa and broadmindedness and the loftiest of ideals, a country so interested in trivia like fashion, a country so steeped in superstition. Despite all this talk about how it is compulsory to read science and go in for professions like engineering, people are still actually driven by the likes of babajis and movie stars and netas whom we have begun to adore. So as long as a man has not somehow made a mark as someone special, we can only nitpick and find fault with him – we hate few things more than to hear someone whom we consider ‘just like us’ to be praised for anything at all – but let once a man convince some people that he has something special (the power to work miracles, whether as a tutor or healer or politico) and we start falling over ourselves to get a sprinkling of his blessings. And now, I guess, I have become something like that, a brand name, a babaji, someone who can get kids marks in the all-important exams regardless of their brains and whether they have worked for it or not. The rest of what I try to teach be damned – indeed, I have heard often and again that many parents, the same parents who seem to be ready to kill for admission, warn their children not to heed all the ‘rubbish’ I say ‘outside the syllabus’. So now I am getting old and tired, and warning people that very soon I am going to reduce the numbers and become much more choosy about whom I take in and whom I allow to continue, but apparently that is serving only to fuel the panic, the craze to get in! Those of my senior old boys who know the details and wish me well keep telling me to make hay while the sun still shines – jack up your fees drastically, Sir, and for the few more years that you keep working, laugh all the way to the bank. I still have some morals left, alas, and don’t yet feel that particular need, but who knows, I might take their advice before it’s time for the last hurrah.

And the kind of things that people say is beyond belief. They ring up at daybreak or close to midnight to say they want to enroll their kids. They ring up to say they have heard I am a well-known teacher, then ask what I teach, and cannot figure out why I lose my temper. Some come five years in advance to ask when they should enroll the kid (one couple did a few minutes ago), and scores come at the last moment, long after the lists have been closed, to say ‘they didn’t know, but would I please make a special concession for them?’ and they nag and nag and nag, as if not knowing gives them a special privilege somehow (and completely ignoring the fact that I get angry after I have told them umpteen times very politely why some people cannot be taken in out of turn, and that they didn’t know – which I flatly disbelieve, of course: after thirty years, only those cannot know me who didn’t want to know – doesn’t make a difference). Some tell the most fantastic stories about why their kids must get in – the most common being that they couldn’t come on time because somebody or the other in the family was on the deathbed or something like that, though how that kind of condition can last in any family for months on end is something I’ve never been able to figure out. And these days a lot of old boys and girls are coming back to enroll their kids, and act as though they are hurt or offended that I can’t remember them, but have they looked at themselves in the mirror lately and compared with what they looked like twenty five years ago, and can they remember thousands of people who have never met them for twenty years or more?

Meanwhile I keep longing for what I probably will never get: interested old boys (and just maybe a few non-girlie girls) coming back. Within the last three days, in quick succession, one has done so, and another has expressed the desire to do so. Usually they get back with a lot of uncertainty and trepidation about what they might expect: most go away pleasantly surprised. There are cranks among them too: some, after joyfully re-establishing the connection, cut it off again, permanently, without a word of explanation. As I have said before and not once, my faith in and love for humankind has reached a nadir. In my worst distress and helplessness I have been hugely helped by complete strangers; those who should remember me with the greatest affection and gratitude have by and large cut me dead, or cheated me most horridly. I can no longer look at people except as either sources of income or worth avoiding like a disease. And yet I used to be so different. I had so wanted and tried to create that most hyped and overused word these days long before it came into fashion, a network of like-minded, decent, mutually caring and helpful people who have a lot of good conversation. Not fated for me, apparently. Ah, well.


Subhanjan Sengupta said...

Dear Sir,

It has always been interesting to read how you reflect on your own work, how you perceive the way people think about you and approach you. It has always been amusing for me to read such things, particularly because I never had the chance to experience the 'tuition' that I have heard so much of for the past eighteen years. The very fact that you said me "You do not need my tuition, you need tuition for your mathematics; go and join that, my classes are enough for you" only goes on to show how genuine a person you have been. I can understand your genuineness have been mistaken by many in society as an unpleasantly attitude when it has been of a perspective radically different from that of others.

On the discourse of society, and the way it associates itself with your tuitions, I have some observations here. You may correct me if you feel that my understanding is flawed.

The way parents flock and beg to get their children admitted in your tuitions, it reflects a combination of fear, desperation, and sadness. I remember I was very weak in mathematics; and my father was repeatedly turned away by some of the popular tutors in science and mathematics those days (you know the names). The fault was mine. I was not sincere enough; mostly a victim to my fluctuating moods and daydreams. But, for my parents, those years at school were a nightmare. What I understand is that there are many out there who have the same fate with the subject - English. Adding to that is the fact that whether we like it or not, the colonisation of our mind by the British is a phenomenon almost all across the world (a reality that we have to live with), and each parent knows that their ward has to be good in English to become something in life. Often, most of these parents are not that good in English themselves, which makes them feel that if their child goes to Suvro Sir’s tuitions, the child will learn good English. I do not intend to be sympathetic. The point that I am trying to make is that our society has sustainably deepened some major weaknesses, and the way they deal with that.

Subhanjan Sengupta said...


What is thoroughly objectionable is the way they approach you and disturb your personal life. This is where the desperation of a human being gives way to adopting all measures possible to get what he/she wants. And that is where you have to face unpleasant situations and have bad experiences with the madness of the parents all around. Now this is something that I have failed to understand about our society. We are such a surprising society, full of contradictions. The society claims to be a ‘collective’ society and not ‘individualistic’ like the western society. Yet, this is what they do: (1) They poke their nose in each other’s matters, and do not have the civic sense as in what they should not do so as to not disturb others. (2) They are not a society where they trust each other, yet they talk about togetherness in tradition and culture. (3) They talk about romance in music and movies, play idiotic party songs in festivals, yet they are scared of children getting into relationship, and when they get to know, they handle it immaturely. (4) There is no system built to care for the elderly. (5) They talk about culture and sanskar, yet women get raped even when in burkha or saree. (6) The left abuses the right, and the right abuses the left; yet when they are in power, it is all the same. (7) They are arm chair nationalists and behave as if they can talk about anything under the sun and abuse anybody they like, even with half of half-baked knowledge. (8) As you rightly said, they want to be ‘educated’ but do not grow up to beings with free thinking, and submit to ritualistic religious practises and prejudices. (9) They talk about their culture of treating guests like God, yet India happens to be one of the least safe places for foreign tourists. (10) They work as cyber coolies and tweet about GDP, and have no damn idea of how the country is heading towards massive inequality, unemployment, and intolerance. I am shocked. I am flabbergasted. To say the truth, the proposition of having a child in a society like this terrifies me.

I hope you soon figure out how to control your environment so that you gradually come out of this situation and get more time to do things that you always wanted to do, but have not done yet.

Best Regards,

riman rakshit said...

Dear Sir,

It must be hard. Year after year, the same tedious routine- phone calls at inappropriate hours, and inane questions from parents.
Nevertheless, the few that have made it into this year's batch, will have quite the time of their lives, as we did. I remember when the 13 year old me had asked you meekly- Do you teach English language along with Literature ? And you had reassured me that you taught both!
I would not have the courage to speak in class, had it not been your enthusiasm which infected us every Wednesdays and Fridays, urging us to actively participate. Ah! The difference a good teacher makes.

Riman Rakshit
Batch of 2009-2010

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thank you for the kind words, Riman.

Unfortunately, the picture above does not help at all to recognize you!