Our real teachers

The most pertinent revelation of the lockdown has been an abundance of time and insight. It has put the brakes on flying in a Ferrari and attuned us to trotting in a tuk-tuk instead – both philosophically and financially. To put it simply, it has drawn our attention to ‘what matters’. The wisdom gained from the pandemic is something we could never have gained from a 2–4-week holiday in the Maldives. The cosmos has intended it to be a year-long retreat. At least.

One of the hilarities this pandemic has bestowed upon me is the chance to revisit my childhood. It has done that not by allowing me to take meandering walks in fresh air and being in sync with nature but by giving me the exhilaration of attending online school with my children. While some believe this to be one’s karmic account being settled for bunking school as kids, I am simply there to start my day with a plenitude of laughter. The richness of seeing both my kids, one in Jr. KG and the other in Sr. KG, sitting together across the table for an hour, with 20 other children unanimously unmuted on each screen is profoundly entertaining.

On the first day after one of their lovely and endearing teachers gave instructions on how to mute and unmute, she posed the question, “No one will speak…?” And 20 kids synchronously unmuted and vociferated, “Out of turn!” The irony of that moment got me more excited than my children to get ready for school every morning. I so keenly wish I were a kid in these times – only for a few months though. In our days, if we spoke out of turn in class, a piece of chalk would come flying at the speed of lightning to hit our foreheads. If the lesson wasn’t learnt, a duster followed it – a wooden one, that too. Besides the target, everyone around had to be extremely vigilant, in case someone ducked.

Today, intriguingly, it’s the other way around – my kids are aiming the chalk at the iPad in case they find it hard to follow what’s being taught, and half my time goes in protecting my expensive gadgets. My elder daughter Meher was being taught how to write the small letter ‘e’ one day. After struggling for a bit, she burst into tears, insisting I complete it for her immediately, because it was soon going to be her turn to show three rows written on the slate. Before she threatened to damage the only functioning screen in the house, I agreed to help, thinking I would teach it to her peacefully after school, and furtively wrote a few rows of the small letter ‘e’. She quickly wiped away her tears and put on a simulated smile, facing the slate toward the camera.

The teacher assiduously went through each of the slates. “Advit, very good.” “Aaron, nice.” “Samar, excellent.” “Ziva, wonderful.” “Meher – all wrong, this is not how you do it, darling.” My daughter turned around and looked at me in complete disbelief. “If you don’t know how to write it, how am I supposed to know?” she said and stormed out of class, only to realize that there was nowhere else to go. She returned sheepishly, content that the teacher had shifted to some drawing activity. I’m still trying to figure what was wrong with my ‘e’.

Just as all this drama was about to settle, the younger daughter unmutes and asks, “Teacher, can I go and do su-su?” “Khursheed’s mummy or daddy,” I hear a stern voice addressing me, “please ensure this is completed before class or during the break. I will not allow this again!” Is it not enough that I was shouted at adequately in school that I now have to receive an online scolding as well? The same voice turned loving while talking to my daughter, granting her permission: “One last time, okay?” She prances into the hall, drinks her unfinished milk, and returns to unmute. “Teacher, I finished su-su.” Am I supposed to shout and scream for raising a notorious brat or just revel in this unprecedented hilarity and bliss? You can blame me for being lackadaisical, but I prefer to do the latter, and quote Khalil Gibran instead: “Your children are not your children.”

Before the pandemic, I was fortunate to attend (with a great deal of trepidation) my first face-to-face parent–teacher meeting. “Your daughter is very talkative,” the teacher announced. “Just give her one phatka,” I said matter-of-factly. She gave me a piercing look to suggest I was a Neanderthal. “Our principal used to lift us off the ground from our side locks,” I reminisced aloud. I wanted to show her my scarred knuckles from all the duster beatings but resisted. “Today, if you even stare at a child long enough, the parent will email the school,” she exclaimed. I thought of all my teachers who had stared at me long and hard, and smiled. My next parent–teacher meeting is in the coming week, online, and I’m looking forward to it.

I love, admire, and have a deep regard for teachers. I was fortunate to be trained and guided by those who always infused my spirit. Teachers have had to adapt to this “new normal” more than any other profession. To regulate a bunch of rambunctious 5-year-olds from a distance within a matter of a few days, and command the respect and discipline that we as parents haven’t been able to do in the months of this lockdown, is praiseworthy. Once, when the teacher instructed her to sit up straight, my little one went off screen and covered her mouth with her hand to say, “She’s really bossy!” But she told me this with the underlying wish to correct her posture. Only a teacher can instil such endearment and respect, and what better a time than Teachers’ Day to doff my proverbial hat to them.

In the last few months, my new teachers have been my children. They’ve defied me so much that I’ve learned to let go of control. They haven’t listened, making me tune in. They’ve been distracted so that I may focus. They’ve taught me to uphold the boundaries I created for them with clarity, consistency, and compassion, and not at my convenience. They’ve taught me that punishments, time-outs, and empty threats are only for me to satisfy my ego, and instead, I should be more conscious of their wants – which is mostly just to play with them. All they want is to sit on top of clouds and paint rainbows. They have helped me awaken inside, to rid me of my fear and anxiety about their future and simply enjoy the present with them. They have taught me how wrong I was to believe that I was there to teach them, when, in reality, it is they who are here to teach us.

“I’m bored,” the elder daughter tugged at my arm one day, while I was glued to my laptop. “Tell me what you want do and we’ll do it together,” I promised as the benevolent dad. “I’m bored, how will I know what to do. If I knew, I would have done it myself!” came the reply, downgrading my intelligence. Lesson taught and learned.

To both my children and all our teachers – thank you for the music. Thanks for all the joy you’re bringing.

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