TeaCheers!

All of us have had teachers who’ve left indelible impressions on our minds and—in an unlucky few like me—on our knuckles, cheeks and backsides as well! All of us have had teachers who we’ve remembered for everything other than their teaching: from their crisp Kanchipuram silk saris to their enticing miniskirts; from their bindis, which may be visible from the moon, to their eyeliners that make the sun seem like a blur; from their accents to their incense—our teachers have pervaded through all our senses.

It is to bring back these lovely memories, to honour and appreciate these wonderful people who’ve touched us and deeply impacted our lives, that we celebrate the day on the 5th of September each year. Interestingly, World Teachers’ Day is actually on the 5th of October. Every country celebrates it on a different day, most days being birthdays of great teachers of their nations or, in some cases like Iran, where they were shot dead for teaching. Oops. Just like Fathers’ Day, Mothers’ Day and Children’s Day are celebrated on different days across the world, so is Teachers’ Day. I guess the only constant is love, not education.

 

Teaching in schools has taken a dramatic change, I am told. Like in the good old days, teachers are no longer allowed to hit children to discipline them. Now, they have to either do it with a stern voice or piercing looks, none of which have the same effect as that of a duster; small, sharp pieces of multi-coloured chalk; or the famous, yellow, 12-inch ‘foot-ruler’, smoothened at its edges from having rendered a repeated spanking.

 

The joy of stretching your arm out with five fingers pointing to the four corners of the classroom, watching the teacher’s elephantine hand come down on it with the legendary foot-ruler, and moving it away just in time to miss the smack, all the while pretending it hit you so terribly hard was the highlight of every year in school. However, this momentary win always had disastrous consequences later.

 

Teachers now want to befriend children. They have them on WhatsApp and Facebook, thus minimising the aura that the teachers of yesteryear had. There are some teachers, the thought of who, even today, makes my computer screen vibrate. And then there are others with whom I helped correct exam papers. There are some who, when they entered class, there was pin-drop silence, while for others, paper rockets flew and stayed airborne longer than the Malaysian Airlines. My teachers in school have inspired, ignited and instilled in me the love of learning, for which I am eternally grateful.

 

When you move to a professional career, the teachers are of a different kind. There is no didactic learning, no mollycoddling and no spoon-feeding. There is no blackboard and duster; the medium of teaching is the human mind and spirit. You begin to get inspired not only by their experience in the field but by the way they talk, walk, dress and gesticulate. You begin to sound like a miniature version of them—isn’t imitation the sincerest, most honest form of flattery? And this awakens in us powers and dreams beyond our own, inducing in us a greater love for what we love, making our innermost being look forward to an adventurous future.

 

Our illustrious community can boast of its immeasurable contribution to academics. Did you know that the Bai Avabai F. Petit Girls’ High School was once an orphanage for destitute Parsi children? Or that J. B. Petit High School for Girls was not a Parsi institution to begin with, but was rescued by a Parsi gentleman when it was in dire straits and on the verge of being merged with The Cathedral and John Connon School? There have been stalwarts who have resurrected institutions single-handedly even today and have made learning such a joyride. To this dedication of theirs, countless children are grateful for.

 

Parsi teachers have such a charm and elegance about them that one almost forgets what one has come to learn. With their proficiency in English, it’s quite ironic that most of them chose to teach either French or Hindi, and when the same teacher teaches both, the child comes home experiencing real joie de vivre. Then there is the famous Ratamai Peer who insists that every Parsi child should learn to read and write Gujarati first, and on one train ride from Mumbai to Surat, ingrained in me the script. This is why I’m still struggling with English.

 

But what I have learnt is not limited by what teachers with a master’s degree have taught me.  From my parents, I learnt unconditional love. My wife recently taught me righteousness. My brother taught me the art of survival in a foreign land. My grandmother taught me courage and resilience, but more importantly, she taught me patience. My patients taught me to speed up a little. Their relatives taught me how to deal with loss and failure. Failure taught me success was just a breezy wind.

 

The wind taught me to get wet in the rain. The rain whispered, “What cannot be said will be wept.” My tears taught me the value of a smile. The smile taught me to make some friends. These friends taught me laughter, joy and adventure. These adventures led to my many travels. My travels taught me not to shop for anyone. Shopkeepers taught me how to bargain. The discounts I kept getting made me do charity. This taught me to be content. Contentment taught me humility. Humility reminded me of the one thing all my great teachers possessed.

 

On a day like today, I’m filled with a deep sense of gratitude towards all my teachers. As my dear friend Aristotle once said, “Those who educate children well are more to be honoured than they who produce them; for these only gave them life, those, the art of living well.”

 

To all those who have taught me to live well, I salute you.

 

 

Mazda K. Turel.