Life, the Universe and Nearly Everything

Here I am, at the end of my second year in Sahyadri, left again in a pensive mood. I get lost when I try to express my experiences here in a way so as to communicate with the world. Looking back at my previous blog posts about life in Sahyadri, I realise I have written about various aspects of my experiences at different times, but all disjointed. I have written about the interesting things that happen here from day to day. I have written about my experience teaching in the classroom. I have written about my discontent and frustrations. I have written about my evolving outlook of life.

This year has been one of interesting experiences and insights and questions and confusions. It’s very personal, and I wonder if I should write about it on the blog. I keep writing my thoughts in a notebook these days, since I think they are very specific in space and time. But then I think there is value in trying to distil those experiences and get its essence in a form that’s relevant for a wider audience.

Articulating one’s thoughts in a form meant to communicate something to someone else helps me get clearer about my own thoughts. There are very few people to whom I talk about my thoughts at a level where I feel- “Ah, we are communicating!”. There are many people who know me, whom I know, with whom I just pass by. And I suspect the reason for that is that I don’t have a coherent enough story of myself, to tell myself. And I don’t have a coherent enough story of myself, to tell others.

They say an adolescent matures psychologically at a rate determined by the society. The fact is, coming to Sahyadri was the first thing that I had wanted to do, decided to do, on my own in life. Granted that I had doubts whether I would be suited to be a teacher (and I still do!), but once I had come here for the interview and seen the place and met some of the people, I knew that I wanted to be here. And it’s only after coming here that I have been able to feel like  an individual, with legitimate desires and frustrations and abilities and shortcomings.


The first year went mostly in getting used to life in the classroom. This year I feel I have got a better grip on that. Of course, teaching is such a complex activity that you can probably never say you have done a good job, but I know that I’ve done at least a baseline job part of the time. And I’ve been aware at some other times, that I was doing a less than baseline job, but just couldn’t gather the motivation and energy to put in that extra effort.

In this second year, I’ve been able to peel off some deep rooted ideas about myself and see myself differently. Of course, it’s still only a set of thoughts- an idea of what I am- but it’s been liberating.

At the beginning of this year I was very motivated, being the second year of teaching, and I was eager to build on things that I had learnt in the first year, to do some things better that I had made a mess of at my first attempt. I was also entrusted with additional duties like being a class teacher, and made myself available to listen closely to students’ issues and experiences in school. I had some additional classes too, since I was teaching computer applications also. So most of my waking moments went into my school work, for the first half of the term.

I’m not sure what happened after that- perhaps it was just fatigue, but I think it was something deeper too- I felt a disconnect with the work in school. I didn’t know what was happening, I just knew that I felt an immense resistance to sit down and prepare for the next day’s class, I just didn’t enjoy being in the classroom, I felt that my work was completely meaningless.

Not that I had been thinking that this work is meaningful in any deep sense. Being an atheist, I don’t attribute any cosmic meaning or purpose to anything. But meaningless in the sense that I seemed to be labouring within the same constructs of society which I had found meaningless as a student. It seemed like I was stuck somewhere. All I could realise was that I didn’t want to be a teacher. But then I had no answer to the next question- what do you want to do then? I liked being in this place, with these people, but I didn’t want to be a teacher, because I seemed to be stuck within the same meaningless constructs.

That’s when I realised that I had no coherent story of myself. That I was more of an overgrown adolescent of 22, rather than an adult of 22, pretty much still figuring out his place in society. It was a very difficult time, dragging myself through the weeks in the second half of the term. You can’t hide from people your disconnect and disinterest, when you are a teacher. And once it came embarrassingly to the fore on teacher’s day, when some class 10 students were interviewing some of the teachers in the morning assembly, about why they chose to teach. When my turn came, I began with why I came to Sahyadri in the first place, but could only stammer my way to my present reality that I was confused about being a teacher.

It’s a blessing that I have people here with whom I can talk about my discontent and frustrations without their being illegitimised. I had long conversations with some of them, talking about my discontent and trying to uncover its source. It was very messy and we kept going back and forth for many days. In a way it seemed to me that whatever the discontent was, it was not directly related to the work, and if I jumped over to doing something else, it would just resurface. So I knew I had to keep at it and get to the bottom of it.

In the beginning of the second term, we had this workshop on re-envisioning education, during which we spent ten days just looking closely at our individual beliefs about teaching and learning, and why we teach. This again was a legitimate space for sharing frustrations and discontent, and some things crystallised for me at the end of it.

For one, I could see the messy and entangled nature of education, and that being a teacher meant having one foot in the muck all the time. And I could also see clearly that I didn’t want to teach. I didn’t want to teach. I realised that I came here seeking a place far away from the crowd of cities, where I could be in touch with nature and quietness, where I could be with people who had a similar outlook of life (and as I recently realised, with whom discontent and frustration were natural and legitimate). Teaching was something I thought I could do, to have access to these. If I could be here without having to teach, I would still be happy.


After the workshop, I felt I needed a fresh start in teaching. Fortunately, it was still the beginning of the second term, and 10th standard classes were almost over. So I decided to start afresh with class 9. I had been experimenting extensively with them even in the earlier term. Now I thought was a good time to start with their class 10 syllabus.

Before I started I had a heart to heart chat with them about my workshop experience and how I looked at teaching now and how what we did in class would depend a lot on what they wanted from it. Most of them were very clear that they were learning chemistry to pass the ICSE and get that qualification, and wouldn’t be learning it otherwise. I said- fair enough, we’ll make the classes focused on preparing you for that.

For the first time I could go into the classroom feeling that I was there to do something which the students wanted to do, for whatever limited purpose. I no longer had to go into a class thinking that this topic had to be made interesting for the children to remain engaged and so on. Of course, that didn’t mean that I would be teaching by rote. One of the things which the children said they wanted from the classes was to understand things properly so that they could learn more easily and better. But getting children interested in chemistry was no longer one of my concerns, helping them learn well for the exams was.

This worked well for my relationship with the subjects, and the domain of knowledge in general. I find them quite interesting at one level to think and talk about, but there’s nothing there that has touched me deeply that I have an urge to share with children. And I think I was labouring under the common myth that a teacher needs to be passionate about the subject. I found it quite interesting to engage with the children in the subject, but I could access that something within me only if there was an interest from outside. There’s no urge within to share, and definitely not to push anything down somebody’s throat.


In a way that took care of my relationship with classroom teaching. I still have many questions about the constructs of a school, especially a residential school, and what being a teacher means. But I feel a difference- there’s no frustration or impatience to get to any answer. In a way I see the complexity in the whole business of education, and I’m happy to keep the questions alive and wait for the living of it to reveal answers if any.

Another part of me became clearer to me during the course of this year, during the course of conversations. Something not really connected to school work, but about my motivations and what I am really seeking and yearning for in life.

I had been a good student in school and my parents encouraged me to excel at everything I did, and I tried to do so. It seems to me now, that I had done everything that was expected of me as a child. This was especially true of my mother, who had very clear ideas about how I should grow up, how I should never take things for granted, how I should excel in whatever I did and not be mediocre, and so on.

I might be wrong, but I think these expectations have been a burden on me. I don’t blame my parents, it just reflects a society that thinks it knows what is best for children, and is acting out of best intentions, and maybe there’s nothing wrong with that but the devil is in the details of how you do it.

And in my case, I realised it because these external expectations and push virtually disappeared one day when my mother passed away in June 2006, when I had just finished my schooling and was getting ready to step into college. There was a huge emptiness, because my mother had almost completely filled the horizon of my consciousness throughout my childhood, with me being an only child and having very little close contact with any adults other than my parents.

For the first time, external expectations of doing well disappeared, and it was liberating. One thing that suffered was academics. I was no longer one of the toppers, but rank average. But I dare say I learnt a few things well, things that I found interesting. I was free to be myself in a way I had never been able to when I was a child. I might sound ungrateful, but I’m not ungrateful to my parents for all that they did for me, and the love and care with which they brought me up. But I cannot deny that I experience a greater wholeness of being today, in the absence of those expectations.

Sometimes I wonder if I ought to feel guilty about feeling this way. But then, my mother had suffered so much from her long term illness, and death only saved her from the suffering. I sometimes wonder how things would have turned out had my mother lived. It would have been interesting. In the last few months of her life, when I was in the 12th standard, I had already begun to have questions about life and society and education, and I used to talk to her about my thoughts. It was interesting how she used to take me seriously sometimes, and how she used to just tell me to stop whining and get back to studying, at other times.

Anyway, I do feel happy to be free today. One of the interesting things I have learnt is that without the external expectations, there’s nowhere I really want to go and I’m already on “the other side of the hedge”, as in E. M. Forster’s story. I’m just a living organism seeking survival and play. What constitutes play for me is something I’m constantly discovering for myself.

I’ve become extremely wary of attachment, and traditional values of family and relationships. It’s often looked at as something pure and desirable, but it’s an iceberg of entangled human emotions of which one sees only a rosy tip. I like the people around me, and I savour human contact, but I do not want to get attached to anyone. I don’t miss anyone. That’s another thing I’ve realised- when I’m here, I’m in contact with the people around me. Everything and everyone else recede to somewhere in the periphery of my consciousness- almost just names and images. I could be accused of not caring, I guess. Perhaps I don’t. But then that is me.


That is my story for the time being. I’m sure parts of it will change and evolve, but I feel that for the first time, I’m on my way to becoming an adult. And I think that means some crystallisation of certain aspects of oneself, for life.

I feel immensely happy and contented to be here. One very important habit that I’ve formed this term is to just go off on my own for walks, during the term. Earlier I used to go on for months without stepping outside the campus, and then suddenly realise- Oh my goodness, I’m living in the middle of all this beauty and I’m stuck in these abstractions!

Lying on the python hill looking at the stars listening to the breeze, watching raindrops on leaves, watching birds and insects (and snakes sometimes!), watching the sun set in different places on the horizon as the seasons progress, watching the moon change its shape and rise at different times, it’s easy to get away from the abstractions in which one lives and works. And remind myself that I’m only a living organism on this planet.

And though I’ve had my difficult times and situations with students, I feel it’s a privilege to be in constant contact with young human beings who are growing up.

I’m on the other side of the hedge.

6 thoughts on “Life, the Universe and Nearly Everything

  1. My dear Kishore,

    I love your Post.

    “Lying on the Python Hill looking at the stars……..And remind myself that I am only a living organism on this planet.” Good. But should only the cutting down of one’s self image be the purpose of this gazing? This connection with the elements ought to be to distil and refine one’s identity, to a state where one can draw from the deepest of abstractions to reach to the remotest branches of gross manifestations…Don’t gaze at the moon and stars with the mental make up of a jilted lover. That will only bring misery to oneself and others. Drop that word, “only” from your sentence. You are a living organism on this planet and fundamentally your role is to participate in the process of evolution. It is an unlimited role with infinite possibilities. See through the sun and moon and lovely hills and chirping birds and feel the operation of the energies and synergies of a universe that is always waiting to hold your in embrace. We become adults only when we learn to see the universe as the Mother who can fill our hoizons with dreams, hopes and expectations.

    And remember – you don’t have to be within the confines of any specific campus for doing this. So if you come to the conclusion that teaching is not your passion it is perhaps better that you think seriously about moving out of the protected environment of Sahyadri. Because here too, existence is conditional. You will be treated as a legitimate member only as long as you remain committed to being a good teacher. Of course passion is not an essential ingredient for doing a good job. But if you want to keep passion as the underlying reason for honest work that is a different picture.


  2. Vivekananda once said that whatever action human being does, it is with the intention of being “free”. So our entire life is actually a march towards freedom, according to our own interpretations of freedom. Its a simple statement, but I find it remarkably astute. A petty thief steals because he wants “freedom” from the lack of something, a huge investments manager cheats because he/she also wants freedom from the lack of something. At indeterminate points in life, purely based on our experiences, we realize that we thought to be freedom was not really freedom, and this process keeps happening. Your experiences in life are different from others, so naturally your ideas of freedom are also different from others. What someone else perceives to be freedom, life experiences has made you believe that its not really freedom. Others might not have had similar experiences to shape their beliefs, or similar experiences might change their beliefs in different ways.

    So if we believe in this theory of freedom, then all your comments about expectations, attachments, family, relationships, they are just natural. And if you really “feel” the joy from that freedom, then chances are that you will have a very open mind and your destiny will be searching for you as much as you are searching for it. Theres very little philosophy here, I think genetically all living beings are wired to “sense” a free/happy being and be attracted to it – maybe hoping that merely associating with a free/happy person would make them also free/happy :).

    Now being the well read/informed person that you are, you might agree that historically all those who seek to attain or even maintain freedom generally has a wandering phase – a “physically” wandering phase of moving from here to there and again, till some point in their lives when they have figured out that they are “completely free”. So I would tend to think that the extent to which you feel the happiness from the freedom now “might” have a diminishing curve starting some point and it would be beneficial for the sake of maintaining the freedom to do some “wandering” at that point :).


  3. I liked one statement in your article immensely: “the devil is in the details of how you do it”. I readily agree.

    Now, compulsions from external sources are customary in our society. Of course the degree varies. Then beyond a point, one suddenly is an adult, and takes own decisions. Nothing wrong.

    The point worth consideration is “what gives freedom” to the individual. I am not going into any analysis. The current phase is a passing one in the path to finding what is “acceptable” as worth pursuing in life. There is nothing like an “ideal” vocation which gives anyone the bliss, at least forever.

    If you are facing dilemma in life about whether to continue teaching or not, I would say the confusion is a good sign. It shows you are thinking; considering what is good for you and what is not; whether the aims while taking up the job have been met; whether this is worth continuing; if so for how long etc.

    I would partly disagree with you on one point, though – that is about passion during teaching. The “passion of a teacher” in your sense seems to have roots in enticing a student to learn the subject thoroughly, with a zest beyond scoring marks in exams. And this thought is dissuading you from “feeling attached” because that is the last thing you want.

    My point of view is that being sincere to the job at hand should be ok enough. If a student decides to flunk in an exam, so be it. He/she is seeking his/her freedom that way. Who are we to question that?

    karmanye vaadhikarasthe.. maa faleshu kadaachana

  4. i think i did mention to you , that you writ every well? and if i didn’t…well here we go…u do write beautifully…i cannot comment on the content, because i cannot say, i understand it completely….and therefore, it wouldn’t be right of me to write anything…i am , after a young adolescent…still trying to figure out…but i still enjoyed reading…and if u don’t mind..i am permanently subscribing to your blog 😀
    a very troublesome student

  5. I came to read this blog as i heard of it from relatives.
    Very well written , i must say: Just to express my views on some points in the blog: The observation of the author that, “There are very few people to whom I talk about my thoughts at a level where I feel- “Ah, we are communicating!”. There are many people who know me, whom I know, with whom I just pass by. And I suspect the reason for that is that I don’t have a coherent enough story of myself, to tell myself. And I don’t have a coherent enough story of myself, to tell others.” The simple truth i have learned through my life is: Nobody is interested in “me” unless that “me” has something to offer to the other person to whom the “me” relates. If the “me” is rich, the aquaintance is wondering if some money could be helpful. If the “me” is hilarious, the aquaintance is happy to elevate his/her moments in life with the assossiation with “me”. If the “me” is simply a compainion, with whom one can go for a movie, a drink, a conference, or a picnic, depending on the aquaintance, the relationship between the “me” and the “aquaintance ” buds.
    If in between, if there is some chemistry between the “me” and the “aquaintance’, it may flower.
    Even if there is no chemistry, if there is utter necessity of the relationship continuing, each one agrees to tolerate the other’s shortcomings, and the relationship continues.
    If there is chemistry of understanding, the relationship blossoms and even through breaks in it, can be revived even after long periods.
    Thus, it is not the incoherence of articulation or an uninteresting story of “myself” which leads to lack of relationships. It is sometimes the lack of wanting it badly enough
    after college days are over very few people , nay hardly any people relate closely to anyone except for professional aquaintances. Somehow our best friends are still the ones we made in college or school, where friendship was unconditional, unlike in working life.

    If one wants relationship one would find ways and means of finding the problems/joys of the person one wants to relate to: the key factor is ” i am good, whatever, however, i am”
    if i want a friendship, i just dream about it and laws of cosmic nature will bring vibes of how to get it going.
    if i am happy without friendships, that is also good enough, i guess. many of us are in professions where we just go through the nuances of every day business of ” making 100% use of all faculties given to us” that we have no time to think of friendships or relationships.
    well, i’ll come back some time, some day later,
    shobhana mohandas

  6. I read Shobhana M’s comments (shobhachechi) with great interest. It hit me now that while schools and colleges tend to make us a stand-alone individual (the standard being usually the rank/grade in class – you should always be among the top) a professional envionment demands us to work in teams. There are rarely any individual feelings, it is mostly about a group and teamwork.

    And yet, as she rightly points out, it is the friendship at academics that flourish/continue. I have hardly any friends made from my work places, barring one or two. Seems universal.

    Well, may be because we were care-free then.

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