Extra-ordinary tales of the ordinary

Tushar Bhatt


Usha Shukla, a young school teacher in Ahmedabad, stood stunned. In her 30s, she was already a principal, a position that pupils regard as next only to the Almighty.

Less than an hour earlier,she had slapped an 8th Standard girl soundly on the face for not doing home work in the mathematics in a proper notebook. Mota Ben, as lady principals are respectfully called in Gujarat , are often stricter than the male of the species.

The teacher had felt pleased with herself in punishing the erring student who had not uttered a single word in self-defence. Usha was petrified. There was something missing and she felt inadequate to pinpoint it.It made her task all the more tough.

The frail pupil was clad in simple clothes,probably bought from a second-hand clothes vendor on a city foothpath . Middle class young teachers like Usha often realise it belatedly that keeping quiet in such situations did not mean that the student had nothing to say. It could mean more often that the pupil was helpless.

Usha finished the class and made her way to principal’s office,feeling euphoric and believing she has instilled fear of God in pupils Yet,an explicable uneasiness underlined the experience.

As she settled in her swivel chair, the school throne of power, the erring girl asked from the door way meekly :”May I have a word with you, Motaben?”

Curtly,the teahcer replied: “ Yes, what is it ? What the tiny girl had to stay left Usha contrite with remorse.

God has forgotten to give many things to teachers, but He has supplied them in abundance with the ability to empathise with the pupil .

The girl began softly, meekly and yet with a dignity the Almight gave the down-trodden to survive in the cruel world. However bad tempered they are, eventually teachers are also children of the Muse of Knowledge. The dictator in the teacher gave way to Saraswati as words rolled out of the distraught pupil.

“Ben, I have not prepared notebook for home work in not only the mathematics but no subject at all. I got second-hand books from a friend,but I cannot get notebooks. My parents are labourers who go out in the morning for work. The kitchen has nothing to cook so we come to study without food.There will be no food in the night too if the parents did not get any work.”Till I get a scholarship, there is no way to obtain notebooks.I know this is bad.”

She said in even tone that exploded on Usha like at atomic device. ” You can beat me every day, in every period and I will neither cry in the class nor stop coming to school.”

Despite brave words,tear rolled down her emaciated cheeks.

Usha Shukla was devastated by the impact. “Oh, my God. How could I be such an idiot? What kind of a taecher am I ? Am I a teacher? What a shame that I did not know about her plight? “

Instead of slapping the young student,she should have slapped herself, Usha thought furiouslylf. Who would think of her as anything but a snob?

As she remonstrated with herself, the pricipalalmost choked on her tears.Then,she decided to act.

She later told a jury of eminent citizens,led by retired chief justice of Gujarat High Court, B J Diwan who adjudged her best suited for an excellence award by the Eklavya Foundation: ” I decided to educate myself.I was nothing but a romantic dreamer.My colleagues said that there were a number of children in our school itself in similar predicament.”

Usha told them: ”Come what may, we will make a beginning. “ The girl who was a victim of Usha’s wrath, was provided with not only notebooks, but everything a pupil needed. Usha and her colleagues got extra lunch boxes from their homes which will be left in a room so that the needy could quietly go and eat,without anyone knowing and hurting their self-esteem.

For the middle class teachers this was not an easy effort. In the days of steady income and spiralling prices, it requires a Herculean effort to meet both the end meet.

If God had created everthing , He should also be accountable for everything. The Brave Motherly Hearts decided never to donate money hereafter to temples, mosques, gurudwaras,churches..every placewhere a cash box for His acolytes ‘ sustenace is found. Not happy with the way He performed his job, the teachers replaced Him with school children.In the entire existence there was nothing holier that children.

Sceptics may argue that despite such kodiyan(earthen lamps) burning themselves out the darkness in our education system continued.It was as if there was darkness at noon.But,there are some Good Samaritans contnue to furrow their lone plough, and support innovative Gurus. Every year since 1997, Eklavya gives several awards for excellence in education.For more two decades, teachers from Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar districts in Gujarat have been given these awards. Usha got it in 1998.

Said Sunil Handa,chairman of the trust,”we are trying to identify the finest,most hard-working and steadfast teachers who have made a significant diference in the lives of their pupils.” It was the jury’s job to find such teachers.

The battle-hardened jury was deeply moved by the extra- ordinariness of the ordinary, when Usha narrated the simple tale.She and her colleagues were without power ot means to bring about a massive change in India.However,they were honest teachers. Everything they attempted did not mean necessarily a success. They had not been able to prevent young girls dropping out when they reached marriageable age.The parents would not want their daughter to have a lot of education so that there would be out-qualidied their spouses.For years now, girls have been forging ahead while the boys fared poorly in ssc and other competitive exqminations.

Handa was aware that piecemeal efforts were not enough. " We need a large number of grassroot level teachers who make a difference. “

Since 1997, 13 annual awards have been given on September 5, Teachers Day. Every year award winning Gurus narrate their life story and experiences.Then,in 2009, a journalist,Neerja Choudhary, was the chief guest at the award ceremony. She heard a veteran teacher,Perin Lalkaka describe her life . The story-teller in the scribe sprang into action. In her speech, Neerja,suggested experiences of the award winners should be brought out in an anthology.

Handa and his colleagues took to the suggestion and a bilingual book, in Gujarati and English, Aviram Athak ( Joyful Path,Tireless Walk) comprising of life stories in 36 walks down the memory lane is the end-result. The 168-page volume ,priced at Rs.100 a copy. was released in 2010.Its charm lies in togetherness of daily-life experiences, tunring into an extra-ordinary boquet of tributes to the mission of teaching. Alone or together, they would not bag a Nobel prize for literature.

It will, however, bring home what ordinary citizens can do if they are are committed to a cause.A concerned and impressed parent neatly summed up: “No literary masterpiece has changed the world. But education has and will do so forever. Needed are committed teachers and a sensitive society.” We need good primary and secondary teachers. A Nobel prize can wait. A Gujarati idom says it all neatly:” Tipe Tipe Sarovar Bharay.” What is a lake of water but joining together of a vast number of drops of water?

[courtesy ; L.K. Sharma}

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / Sketches

The devotion of Kishori Amonkar

Salil Tripathi

Kishori Amonkar never got the Bharat Ratna, but she was India’s jewel

The human voice has a range—at its base, it is deep. The voice emerges from somewhere within, grounded firmly as if it were subterranean. Then it rises slowly and reaches the peak, at which point it becomes so sharp and clear that even when it has stopped, the sound reverberates in the silence. Kishori Amonkar’s genius lay in knowing the boundaries. She would then guide her voice along the contours of sound without knocking into the boundaries, making it seem astonishingly easy. The rest was silence.

She was a perfectionist. She did not like latecomers or disturbances of any kind at her concerts. She expected her accompanists to be accomplished—I remember one concert where midway through an aalaap, with which she initiated her performance, she turned around and instructed the accompanist what she must do, to provide the base from which her voice could soar. She often closed her eyes when she sang, her mind concentrating not so much on the words, because for her the lyrics were often immaterial, but on the architecture of the raga, so that she could meander through that open space within the bandish (composition) without getting lost, without hitting any wall, as her voice looked for and discovered the window through which she could leave those confines and float even higher, without breaking any rules.

Her annoyance with disturbance was real, and some mistook her temper (she was often called the diva) as a manifestation of her ego. On stage, however, it wasn’t her ego that was being disturbed; it was her willingness to submit, her devotion, that was being distracted, and she resented that. She was immersed in her raga: Like Arjuna, she was aiming at the target while looking at its reflection. She was focused on her bandish. At that moment, little else mattered—she could see her voice helping her travel towards perfection which was visible only to her, which lay within her grasp, and when she reached it, there was joy, satisfaction and gratitude, and her audience realized the power of her imagination.

She once told the journalist Sunil Sethi in an interview: “I must sing. I don’t sing for the gallery, I sing for him (referring to the divine).” When she sang, she became one with the swara (note) and the sur (key)—words didn’t matter, and peripheral noise was sacrilegious. She could see the note in front of her eyes, she said. She plunged into the language of the notes, to decipher the sounds, which may seem without meaning in any language, but yet were understood in every language. She could tell apart the effects of different notes in different ragas; she could inhabit the micro-notes, leading up to the playful jugalbandi, the virtuoso dialogue with the tabla player, or with a maestro like Hariprasad Chaurasia on the flute. The raga, the structured melody of classical music, became a live entity: formless yet real, fragile yet imperishable, fleeting yet memorable. She once said, “I surrender before the raga; I request him to show me the colours of notes.” She begged the raga to reveal itself, to go beyond its grammar, to realize the ecstasy that seemed so attainable and yet so distant.

I was lucky enough to have heard her live many times. Modern technology made her voice my companion on countless journeys, in all the cities in which I lived. Her joyous aalaap would provide bliss and even her plaintive notes could alleviate gloom. Her voice calmed the heat on blisteringly hot Mumbai summer afternoons; her raga Miyan Ki Malhar reminded me of a walk in the monsoon on Marine Drive even on a dark winter evening in New England; another raga, Yaman, offered warm comfort on the night snow fell lightly in New York; her rendering of the raga Bhoop erased the boundaries between my home in London and Mumbai, bringing back the vivid memory of her singing at the open quadrangle of St Xavier’s College.

I heard her a couple of times when she had a sore throat and you could feel her pain—her mind could visualize the landscape her voice wanted to inhabit, the frown on her face revealing pain because she knew she could not do what she wanted. But she would concentrate and try, and then her face would relax once inspiration had struck, a door was opened, and she had found another, softer, more melodious way out of the constraint, as she moved with the raga to a different scale, letting her voice climb a different peak. Then her eyes would open and if you sat close enough, you might even see her eyes glistening, and you could see the faint glimmer of a smile emerging on her face—in the battle between what her mind wanted and what her body offered, she had found a third way, bringing the two in harmony. It was as close as you could get to a divine experience.

The magic of Indian classical music is that no two concerts by the same artist are alike. Even if the accompanist is the same, the raga is the same, as is the singer, each performance becomes unique. You could have heard her raga Hamsadhwani at the Sawai Gandharva Bhimsen Mahotsav in Pune, or at a concert at the Bhulabhai Desai Auditorium in Mumbai, but the two would sound different. We marvel at the variety today even within the same thumri, a form of light classical music: Thanks to the recordings on the Internet, three of her versions of the unforgettable Babul Mora are relatively easy to find.

She never got the Bharat Ratna, but she was India’s jewel. When she sang Sahela Re, she became our friend, as we met her, and through her, we met music, her friend.

Salil Tripathi is a writer based in London.

courtesy :

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / Sketches