Giving roots and wings

P. Ajitha

Of all the teachers who have left an indelible impression and imprint on my professional life as an educator, Mr. L. Bashkar tops the list. Tall, bespectacled with a ‘towering personality’ his presence literally filled the room he strode into! He was and still is the epitome of sincerity, commitment, benevolence, graciousness, erudition and wisdom. Mr. Bashkar, my English teacher in high school (Sainik School, Imphal) continues to be my beacon of guiding light and the touchstone of teaching standards I continually strive to achieve. And in his current role of an administrator, he continues to inspire students and teachers alike.

Having said that, I must admit, it wasn’t until recently that this realization dawned on me. Reflecting on my decade-old journey as an educator, I can now see what a profound influence and impact Mr. Bashkar has exerted in shaping my personality – teaching ideologies, principles, outlook, work ethics and attitude towards the teaching-learning process.

I write this encomium on my guru as a tribute to him not just as a teacher but as a fine human being whose sphere of influence went beyond the ambit of imparting language skills to include life skills training. Apart from infusing a love for literature, as a man of letters himself, he stirred my imagination and infused the art of self-expression. I initially tried to model my writing based on his signature style but developed my own unique, characteristic one which is another legacy I have received from him.

Of the numerous things I have tried to imbibe from him on the professional front, the most important one is valuing the student as an individual – the whole package replete with his views, likes, dislikes and eccentricities. The sincerity and dedication with which he used to mark the answer scripts and correct notebooks offers a refreshing perspective on what is considered drudgery by most teachers – something worth emulating. Marking answer papers/correcting notebooks was never a monotonous and mechanical exercise for him, though in the process, he literally ‘burnt the midnight oil’.

When the notebooks were returned and the answer scripts shown, students looked forward to reading the comments/remarks strewn liberally across the pages in his characteristically neat and striking handwriting. The insightful comments added after meticulous correction – beyond grammatical and syntactical errors, were uncharacteristically witty and at the same time incisive. It appeared like he wasn’t evaluating answers but analyzing the thought processes and machinations of the mind, the remarks being the necessary intervention to keep the thoughts from going astray. It was his way of saying ‘Beware! I can read your mind!’ The comments were uplifting and encouraging and made the student’s day to know that the teacher had taken pains and effort to actually read what he/she had written – acknowledging his thoughts and expression – a validation powerful enough to make the recluse emerge out of his cocoon and self-effacing existence! This is something I am able to appreciate now as a teacher myself and remind myself whenever I sit to mark my students’ papers and correct their notebooks.

On the personal front, I owe my life of fulfilment and contentment to him. Let me explain how. This great teacher has had the same positive impact in shaping my being. I have been handed down two heirlooms by him – roots and wings. Values – offering a solid grounding and freedom to follow my heart and make life choices. I have been fortunate enough to be allowed to experience the vicissitudes of life by having the freedom to make choices – be it small, inconsequential things or the ones that determine the course of life ahead. It is this freedom which ultimately makes an individual responsible and responsive to life in general. It is a truism that with great freedom comes great responsibility. It is the case when the freedom is really true and not just seemingly real, otherwise liberation of the soul from the clutches of base animalistic existence can never be achieved. Without this liberation, self-actualization will always remain elusive. One needs to taste this real freedom to even get a glimpse of what one is capable of becoming. I am grateful for having had the freedom to make mistakes, learn from them and become a responsible individual.

Every individual born into this world can become the master of his destiny, if nurtured with love and freedom and given a conducive atmosphere to chart the path to self-realization. In spite of all the necessary ingredients being provided and the necessary elements being present, a lifetime of opportunities to find oneself and fulfil one’s destiny may not happen. The opposite is also true. Nevertheless, the flowering of the intellect and the elevation of the soul to an exalted state of being is bound to happen with the necessary intrinsic and extrinsic conditions. These conditions were optimally provided to me under my teacher’s nurturing care.

In the words of Ralph Ellison: “When I discover who I am, I’ll be free”

Recognizing the individuality of a being and allowing her to pursue a chosen path to create her own destiny is as fundamental to living as breathing. One owes it to oneself to divine the purpose of one’s earthly life, and channelize one’s energies towards its fulfilment. And that purpose cannot be determined by anybody else. One has to become aware of it and constantly strive to achieve it. Easier said than done! For this to happen one needs to take cognizance of the life processes that manifest in myriad ways. It is a long and arduous journey, one that needs patience, persistence, faith and commitment. To be sure there will be setbacks, disappointments and even disillusionment, but the most important thing is to forge ahead with the conviction of meeting one’s destiny. And one cannot proceed in this path without enjoying true freedom.

My teacher set me free
Having had the privilege of observing and learning from him at close quarters, both in the professional and well as personal space, I can say, Mr. Bashkar has been instrumental in shaping my values, belief systems as well as professional ethics.

The author is a teaching practitioner who staunchly believes in the transformational power of education imparted with true commitment to the larger objectives of this noble endeavour. She teaches at Delhi Public School, Coimbatore and can be reached at [email protected].

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