Monday, 26 October 2015

The Teacher

Photo credit: Roel Wijnants

As a kid we were often asked to write essays on 'My favorite teacher' and to be honest I always made up stories because there was no one I idolized. That was before I met 'Prabha Tiwari Madam'. She used to teach Hindi to higher secondary students and taught me when I was in class 7-8 ( also, she was our class teacher for that period). What was so special about her that out of hundreds of teachers, only she made an impression for lifetime?

Unlike most of the desirable teachers, 'Prabha Tiwari Madam' didn't fall into the category of 'soft spoken, sweet and always smiling' persona. She was a 'no-nonsense' lady. She used to come to school riding a cycle, not the ladies cycle but the kind men used in olden times (in sari!). Even in those days, she was the only woman to do that. I remember distinctly this small habit of hers because she always looked so dignified and elegant riding that cycle. She never cared about all the eyes staring at her. It took me more than couple of years to understand what it meant to have pride and self-esteem.

She was an excellent teacher of course and being a literature teacher gave her enough opportunity to stretch her lessons beyond textbooks. Her classes would often end without we even so much as open the book. She encouraged us to think freely, have debates and discussions. She challenged us to question what was written in textbooks. Her classes from far from orthodox.

Although she was never vocal about her love for us, she treated us like her family. She used to take us for picnics and on occasions invite us home for evening snack! I can't be sure if everyone loved her the way I did, but they all admired her. She commanded respect.

Even now, her eloquent speech echoes through my heart. It would be quite impossible to even try explaining how advanced her teachings were, but let me give an example. During one of the discussions on Ramayana, she explained why Sri Rama was a 'Mahapurush', and not God. Sri Rama, even though supremely virtuous, was flawed. He banished his wife even though she was innocent and thus failed as a husband. Hence, he will always be 'Mahapurush', greatest human being, but not God. To this day, I have never met someone who has the courage to address such a sensitive topic in such a way to a seventh grader!

There are a hundred different reasons why I would always be in awe of her, but most importantly what I really admired was that she treated us like equals. She treated us like adults, someone willing to consider new ideas, tolerate differences and audacity to push our limits. And even if we were too young back then to understand all this, we tried our best to grow up with that values.

I lost touch with her when I shifted to Bangalore, and it's been more than 15 years since my last class with her but she still inspires me. And I know, of all the people who made me who I am, she would remain an integral part. My teacher 'Prabha Tiwari Madam'.