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Fed on our masala hindi films and spicy gossip in Page 3 column of the print media, the Indian palate seeks a lot of masala in real life. Everybody in public life is known to court controversies but we have mastered the art of creating a controversy around anything or utterance or event of whatever importance. The whole world can learn the art of making a hill out of a mole from the Indian thought process.
We have been celebrating Teachers' Day since long. In fact, Teachers' Day on 5th of September every year marks the birthday of our 2nd President Late Dr. S. Radhakrishnan who was a great man of letters and philosopher. Celebrating the contribution of teachers or 'gurus', as they were known in the past, is not new to modern India. Guru-purnima on the shukla-purnima in the Hindu month of ashaad in mid-July brings focus on the importance of guru in the Indian society.
The tradition of guru-shishya is not exclusive to India and can be observed in several ancient and not so old civilizations as well. Readers may like to know that almost hundred countries in the world celebrate Teachers Day albeit on different dates.
Ever since one started attending school, one has seen schools and colleges celebrating the Teachers' Day. It was not unusual for students to address the school masters as guruji out of heart-felt respect. The teachers also liked being addressed as guruji which raised their self-esteem and raised their level a notch above the rest. Every teacher in a school was not addressed as guruji. There would be a few out of scores of teachers in a school who qualified to be guruji. They had to pass the crucible of acceptance by students by sheer dint of knowledge, personal conduct and overall personality. The flip side of these guruji was that they set a bar for other teachers and it generated an environment of academic excellence to the advantage of the students.
From my experience of teaching in a college at a young age of 20, I can say with confidence that the age and experience were certainly not the only attributes making one eligible for being called guruji. It is a humbling experience when a judge, industrialist, a bureaucrat or a professor suddenly identifies you in a crowd and bends down to touch your feet and tells the people around you that you happened to be his guruji some thirty years ago.
The controversy that has erupted on celebration of Teachers' Day as Guru Utsav is bizarre and shows only the closed minds of a few and ignorance about our tradition and culture. Some well meaning teachers are against such celebrations on account of trivializing of the day by some in the teaching profession who demand expensive gifts from their students as 'guru dakshina'. Malpractices do not mean that we should not celebrate the day with gusto. Such corrupt teachers and black sheep in the system should be isolated and brought to book.So much of bad vibes have been created about Guru Utsav that I am apprehensive whether reciting the following couplet will meet public approval or otherwise:
And I really shudder to think what will be the reaction if one was to recite the following shaloka: Since my childhood it has been reinforced in me and my siblings, if I can speak for them that the teacher only teaches whereas the guru, i.e., a true teacher, transfers knowledge. If one was to ask school-going children, irrespective of the fact that they studied in government/semi-government or so called public schools, they will also vouch for it that only one or two teachers would qualify to be called gurus who go beyond the ritual of teaching and devote their time in the overall development of their pupils.
For any child, her guru is the mother. In the mother's lap and company, a child learns the ways of life than mere formal learning as is done in schools. Mother, to me, is a true guru and she cannot be reduced in stature in view of her contribution to overall development of personality.
In all of my 53 years, I have not seen the central government rallying to attach as much importance to Teachers' Day as the present one. Of course, the President of India does honour some teachers on the occasion. Students also gift flowers and sweets to their teachers. But the state's involvement in reinforcing the significance of the role of teachers in nation building is something 'hat ke' and indeed very refreshing. It is hoped the Prime Minister's nationwide address on this occasion will be received by the teachers and taught with equal enthusiasm. The time of the address, of course, needs to be re-visited to ensure convenience of the students.
Political parties and certain unions in educational institutions opposed to the present dispensation will like to deflate this initiative. The Prime Minister should hold his ground and address the students as planned.
If the teachers in the society are accorded respect then good students will also be motivated to join this vocation. If the teachers will be reduced to 'Master' then meritorious students will look outside the country to teach at institutions of higher learning and our own education system will continue to suffer from indifference. In such an environment the initiative of this government is definitely laudable.
More about Somesh Goyal
Somesh Goyal is an alumnus of the National Defence College. Views expressed by him are in his personal capacity.
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