THE SONG OF PRAYER
The presence of a great teacher is always illuminating. We are fortunate to have Mrs. SadhanaBhattacharyy amongst us. She taught for thirty-seven years. It is great to listen to her life-history, her struggles and noble aspirations. A conversation with her makes us realize the importance and beauty of the vocation of teaching. The conversation took place at her daughter’s residence in New Delhi. This brief article is based on a meaningful dialogue with her.
It is not a formal interview—the way a professional researcher acquires hard information from the respondent. Instead, Mrs. Sadhana Bhattacharyy’s presence creates an environment filled with positive vibrations. I become humble. I feel that I am here to feel the touch of wisdom, to listen, to enlarge my vision. Yes, her age is her life- energy; she narrates; she recalls; she plays—and plays beautifully—with time; past and present are merged; her words convey deep meanings; her gestures, her silence make me realize the art of observing and listening. Her stories capture my imagination.
It is like experiencing history. The World War II, bombings in Calcutta in 1941, and she was growing up. I could see her—a small child surprised and puzzled. We humans are capable of causing such devastating violence. She was hardly four years old. But then, the everydayness of the world does not stop. It was in 1943 that her father took her to MahakaliPathsala, Kalighat –a humble school in Calcutta. She was a good student; the school didn’t take tuition fees from her; moreover, her parents wanted her to study, to evolve, and see the world in her own eyes. As she narrates with great pride, her mother was inclined to the progressive movements taking place in the city. And she didn’t disappoint them. She did extremely well in her matriculation examination. It was 1955. There was a turning point in her life. She got married; and from Calcutta to Shilong—she undertook yet another journey. But then, her married status did not prevent her from pursuing her zeal for education. She joined a college. Married life, domestic responsibilities—she could manage some free time only late at night for her study; but then the encouragement from her husband, her mother-in-law and above all, from her parents made it possible. She became a graduate. Not solely that. She joined an evening college, and completed the Bachelor of Teaching programme. Possibly she was destined to become a teacher. It was in 1960 that she became a mother; and in the same year (October 6, 1960) she joined Shilong Secondary School as a teacher. A beautiful coincidence that indicates that a teacher—like a mother—ought to be filled with life-affirming energy. She taught for thirty-seven years, and retired from the same school as the Assistant Headmistress.
Yes, life was not always easy and smooth. There was struggle, and there was every possibility of apprehension, anxiety and a broken communication. After all, a married woman was redefining her life! ‘Once in a cultural programme I had to take a prize from a Muslim gentleman. My mother-in-law didn’t like it. She kept rebuking me’. Yes, at times, even an otherwise considerate mother-in-law would not feel very easy with her journey, her movement from home to the world. Furthermore, a male-dominated society—obsessed with the male child—didn’t always appreciate the mother of four daughters, particularly, her urge to give them good education, and make them independent. However, there are wonderful surprises in life. Her critics, she reminds me, did eventually change their language. Now they tell her: ‘You are lucky to have such talented daughters.’ She laughs. And that laughter is infectious.
What is ageing? She is seventy-seven years old. She has seen life—love and death, pain and suffering, hope and struggle. But then, ageing is not despair and sadness; it has its beauty, grace and wisdom. She radiates that wisdom, that gravity. There is no trace of cynicism. She can praise, she can celebrate, she can see good things. How gracefully she recalls some of her teachers—their knowledge, their dedication, their commitment to the vocation. ‘They used to teach so well. It was sufficient to attend their classes. Never did we feel the need for taking private tuitions’ .In a society dominated by the education market and its innumerable shops her sense of gratitude to her teachers comes as a refreshing departure. She believes that to teach well one has love the vocation. For thirty-seven years she engaged with thousands of students. She taught them Mathematics, Sanskrit, English and Bengali. She celebrated it, she loved her school—her association with her students. Her eyes radiate immense love when she recalls her students—an old student suffering from breast cancer, yet not forgetting to express her gratitude; or a student—now a bank officer in Shilong—coming forward to assist her as he finds her in the bank… True, she does not get any pension. However, as she asserts boldly, ‘I have no regret. My real wealth is the love that I have received from my students.’
Times are changing. Good teachers, dedicated teachers, teachers as role models—where are they? She keeps reflecting. Possibly the culture of private tuition, she says, has deprived the vocation of teaching of its grace. Are the students learning something substantial? ‘We found good teachers. They made us understand the deeper meanings of all that we studied. Moreover, there was sufficient scope for us to write expressive essays, to articulate and analyze. But then, these days we see the sickness of objective/multiple choice questions; there is no scope for creativity, for details, for deep understanding.’ Her sharp comments inspire me; I feel like entering the domain of critical pedagogy.
Her words are flowing like a fountain. Meanwhile, her granddaughter comes back from her school—a leading school in South Delhi. She looks at her. And I ask her a question: ‘Do you believe in rebirth?’ ‘Yes, I do’, she replies. ‘In your next birth what do you wish to do?’ I ask her again. ‘I wish to become a child, and go to school’, she adds. It is at this moment that time acquires a new meaning. It becomes linear as well as cyclic. I see her; I see her granddaughter.
I come back. I look at the sky. The sun is smiling. I pray. What else is education except the song of prayer?