The sun disappeared behind the distant hills, in what could have been a scene taken right out of a painting, and I got up to head back. Walking alongside the Bhima, I couldn’t help turning my attention to a largish bird which was performing fantastic aerial stunts above the water. I’ll ask Prabhat to find out which bird that was.
As I reached the path that would take me back up the hill to the school, my thoughts again went back to hovering around the reality of my being here- in this place, at this moment. I suddenly noticed a dark piece of rock lying on the ground, and for no reason tipped it over with my foot. It revealed a fascinating shiny crystal formation on the other side. You find so many such crystals lying around here. These hills are believed to have been formed in massive volcanic eruptions around 60-70 million years ago.
I’m fascinated by the mere fact of my being here, of having spent almost a year here, so far away from home. On second thoughts, what is home? Where do I really belong to? Isn’t the whole world my home? Well, this place definitely feels like home.
The new path has made the walk down to the river and back up an easy affair. In a few minutes I’ll be back in school, in time for my evening prep supervision. Prep is a good space to sit quietly and observe the children. In class, so many things happen at the same time and you yourself are fully engaged in the moment, so there is no opportunity whatsoever to step back and observe the events from a distance.
Today they are doing their work silently. Only last week they were extremely noisy and boisterous, and had to be spoken to sternly. What exactly is my relationship with them, as a teacher of Chemistry, as an adult? What is it that I have to help them with? To prepare for exams, to keenly observe the world they live in, to have confidence in themselves?
They are already thinking, aware human beings. Many of them come from urban settings, and this place has made a difference in their lives. Many of them do grow up to be sensitive, sensible individuals. That’s not to say that that doesn’t happen in other places, but I do feel this place provides a good atmosphere for children to grow up. They are already adept at expressing and articulating their ideas and opinions, many of them more so than I am.
They won’t accept most things unquestioningly, but they do listen to reason. I’ve realised that it is important to be very clear in my head about “why do it?” when I ask something of them. This engagement with them on a level playing field, treating each other as equals, has been a huge learning experience for me. But they can also be extremely irritating and trying at times, with their tendency to slip into lousiness, and give in to impulses. It does seem like they need to be held together actively at all times, and that perhaps is one of the jobs of a teacher living with children.
I’m so lucky to be able to do work that I enjoy. It is a pleasure to be able to help children learn about the world we live in, learn new skills… But I’ve also encountered situations in the classroom where the whole exercise seems pointless, when I’ve asked myself, “Why am I doing this?” I’ve sometimes felt that I’m doing the same things to my students that I despised some of my teachers doing to me.
When I started teaching, I was desperate to perceive myself as a “good teacher”, to convince myself that I had taken up the right thing, having decided to deviate from the trodden path. As a result, for some time, I couldn’t accept the fact that I had problems with the work I’m doing. Today, I no longer feel uncomfortable confronting these questions, sharing them with other people. Being able to be honest with myself has been liberating, and has enabled me to begin to tackle some of these issues.
And it’s a boon, to have people around you who are at the same wavelength. It is absolutely wonderful to be in a place where you are valued for who you are- not something easy to find in this world. And the space to pursue all your interests and exercise all your faculties- without having to work around any narrow definition of your role. I’ve surprisingly found a continuity with who I was before I joined college, before I became excessively pessimistic and cynical!
After dinner, I go for a stroll in the cool breeze. The sky is clear, and I can see countless stars. Only last week I had my first glimpse of the milky way, when I went to the library roof with Prof. Mahajan early in the morning and had my first stargazing session. I’m going to spend some time learning about the objects in our night sky and observing them. It evokes a certain kind of wonder, which must be the same wonder our early ancestors had, which gave rise to science and religion.
But being in a place like this, there is a danger of becoming too preoccupied with oneself. It’s important to keep asking the question, “What is my relationship with the larger world?” I’m tempted to say “the world out there”, but I know I’m also part of that world. The world of corruption, powerful and greedy politicians and corporations, millions of homeless people, but also organisations which are making a difference in small ways, often unheard of in the mainstream media. Closer to home, what is my relationship with the dadas and didis (the support staff) from the villages down below, whose silent work keeps the school running? What is the children’s relationship with this world they are living in? Isn’t it a question of crucial importance for a teacher? Not just for oneself, but on behalf of the children too.
On a related but different (and more abstract and philosophical!) note, I have often felt that different parts of me come alive and active when I’m doing different things, when I’m relating with different people. It’s as if I’m a messed up assortment of unrelated fragments. Can I have a single scheme of things where each of these has a place? Not that I want to relate to each person or each activity in the same way, but I want to be the same person when I’m relating to different people or activities.
The children go home tomorrow. The school will become quiet and devoid of life for two and a half months now. I’m looking forward to spending some time here on my own when it’s quiet. That should be an entirely different experience.