Friday, October 15, 2010

THE HINDU: Teachers, then and now

Teachers, then and now

D.B.N.MURTHY

October 9, 2010


My friend Sheila was in a foul mood. She was angry at the whole world.

"No one respects a teacher any more, not even her own students. Just see how we are treated. Come elections, we are roped in for election duty; if it is census, we have to go from door to door, inviting the wrath of the inmates! What do they take us for? I thought we were paid to teach, and I seem to be doing anything but teach!"

While I felt sorry for Sheila and could appreciate her righteous indignation, a story my uncle used to tell me came to my mind. This story belongs to the second decade of the 20th century when teaching was considered a noble profession and teachers were a much-respected lot.

My uncle was a strapping lad of 12 and he lived with his grandparents in Tumkur, Karnataka. Like all lads of 12 in a joint family, he had to run errands. One of his regular duties was to escort the married daughters back to their in-laws' place whenever they visited their parents as required by protocol. His grandfather was the headmaster of the local school, and was a highly respected member of the community.

My uncle was once escorting his aunt and her brood back to her husband's house after a holiday in her father's house. It involved a short journey by train from Tumkur. Tumkur was a one-horse town and there was a lone metre gauge train passing through it. People travelling to Bangalore usually took that train.

My uncle and his baggage of passengers reached the station well in time. The train whistled in and it took a while for our little Pied Piper to entrain with his entourage. By the time they got in, all the seats were occupied. Our hero looked around, nonplussed, looking for some sitting space. There were two hulking men who had already spread their sheets on the wooden berths and lying sprawled on them, ready for a snooze. They showed no sign of obliging the lady and her brood.

My uncle stood meekly and stared, not daring to ask them to get up and make room for them, and his aunt stood by equally timid. The two men just ignored them and refused to budge. Meanwhile the grandfather, who had just walked in to see if things were in order, bustled into the compartment, flourishing his walking stick. He took in the scene and got into his schoolmaster act immediately. He poked the two men with his walking stick and yelled at them, "Get up, get up, you rascals!" The two men got up meekly, gathered their clothes and moved into the corner. "Sit down, sit down," he briskly ordered his grandson and daughter. As soon as they were settled, he got off and the train moved.

My worried uncle sat huddled, afraid to move lest the men retaliate after his grandfather left. But he need not have worried. One of them asked the other, "How come you so meekly got up and took the old man's scolding without a protest?" The other man replied, almost with awe, "He is our schoolmaster, don't you know?"

(The writer's email is dbnvimi@gmail.com)

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