I’ve been told that this rarely happens, but I was lucky to have it happen to me. Years ago, my teacher, Mrs Shastri stopped me on my way back from school, and in a solemn and caring voice, conveyed that she wanted to tell me something important. I was in SSC then, on the threshold of choosing my career and considered by my teachers and family to be bright enough to become a doctor. I was doing fairly well in the science subjects but was also writing poems and short stories. My heart belonged to the world of literature and all I could dream of was regaling the world with my writing. But, familial pressure and expectations can confuse and stupefy. Mrs Shastri had gauged this, and in all earnestness, she said, “Your forte is language, my child. Don’t follow the herd. We will have enough doctors and engineers. We need storytellers too. Don’t be afraid to follow your heart.” Today, as I write this post, I’m full of gratitude for the treasure trove Mrs Shastri led me to, by paying attention to my dilemma and giving me the courage to follow my dreams. In a world hard-pressed for time, she gave her own, a precious half an hour, to guide her ward. She understood. Many are the teachers, like Mrs Shastri, who taught me all I know today, some purposefully, and others, unknowingly; and I’m an eager student.
My first teacher, of course, was my mother. She nurtured me with a balanced mix of love and discipline, as she held my little finger to help me take my first, faltering steps. Little did I know then about the many paths she would lead me to so that I could explore the different worlds around me and dwell in whichever one I found fascinating. Her unfortunate and early widowhood notwithstanding, she did her best to feed and clothe me and nurture my mind and soul. Her stoicism in the face of her singlehood (and now that I think of it) her loneliness, is a sterling quality that she imparted merely by example, a trait that automatically wells up in me when the going gets tough. Today, I remember the times she admonished me with great fondness, for I was quite a rebel, and it must have taken her a good amount of patience and love to defuse potentially explosive faceoffs. With her firmness, she taught me that while one may aspire to get the moon, it is wise to look before leaping.
My Guru came into my life quite by chance. I was neither looking for one nor was I in any kind of misery. I wasn’t even aware of his presence. I had enough intellectual arrogance to think that all masters were out to con people and there was no way I would be a sucker. This, when I saw a small poster with his picture in a most inconspicuous place. Something clicked and I made the connection, resisting it all along, my head and heart fighting bitterly about whether I should surrender or walk away. When I opened my mind to the knowledge, questioning, arguing, accepting and rejecting, doubting till I was convinced, till my own experiences helped me sieve the chaff from the grain, I couldn’t but feel deeply grateful to have found a spiritual master. I live with greater awareness, value every breath I take, savour every moment and know that I needn’t sweat the small stuff, as in good time, I will be six feet under the ground, like every other breathing organism.
Several are the teachers who’ve touched me. My house-help, who fends for her kids and wards off the abuses of her alcoholic husband, with the zeal of a warrior. My friend, Gayatri, who is a rocket scientist by learning and a homemaker by choice. She opted out of a lucrative job to tend to her family, because that is what makes her happy. She let go. Doesn’t everything ultimately boil down to happiness? My maternal grandmother, who had so much love to give that she welcomed every visitor with genuine warmth and they reciprocated with an avalanche of blessings and gratitude. She fed them hot meals, asked after them and their families, and when instinct told her that they were in trouble, helped them generously. My neighbour, a single mother, with a teenage son, has a packed life. But, the smile never leaves her face. Ira, all of four, and the love of my life, lives so in the present moment that a Zen master could take lessons from her. Whether she is moulding something out of play dough or colouring with crayons or talking to her ‘pretend’ friend, she is one with her activity. Completely focused. A study in dharana.
Wherever I look, I see a teacher. There is something one can glean from everyone. Ants fascinate me with their orderliness. A pair of fan-tailed birds which had built a nest on the tamarind tree outside my window inspired me with their energy, dancing about on the branches, flying off to get food for their babies, taking turns to guard them, and joining forces to chase a crow, who was eyeing their chicks, with a ferocity I wasn’t aware the tiny birds were capable of. It reminded of all that was perhaps dormant in me. When I sit under the shade of a tree, I’m aware of its giving nature, mute though it is. Then, there are books. What would I do without them? I take whatever I can. Not all of it is transformed into wisdom; but one thought, one piece of advice, a couple of lines from a poem, a story, a novel or a word is enough to teach what years of struggle may have failed to and facilitate a transformation or a paradigm shift.
For a learner, the world is a classroom. Teachers are many. Some teach you what to do; others, what not to do. When the student is ready, the teacher appears. All that one needs to do is to keep one’s eyes and ears open and have the readiness to submit to the learning.
Happy Teacher’s Day!