August 15 is the day when politicians, young and old alike, garland the freshly painted statues of Gandhiji and Nehru, sing their praises before confining them to the obituary column for another year. It is also the day, when people who are 55 and above are overcome by a sense of nostalgia. Independence Day conjures up various images, but the ones that remain etched in my mind are those that I experienced as a child – walking to school earlier than usual, clapping enthusiastically while the Principal hoisted the flag, talking in whispers with friends while the ‘special guest’ droned on, stretching my hands out enthusiastically for the small packet of mixture and laddu the class teacher was distributing, and singing the patriotic songs of `Bharat’ with my fellow classmates.
By `Bharat’ I am not referring to India, but to the actor who earned that sobriquet by starring in several patriotic films. Just as the millions of moviegoers today associate the name `Rahul’ with Shahrukh Khan, for those of us who grew up in the mid 1960s, the name Bharat is synonymous with the inimitable Manoj Kumar. While there is no consensus as to whether this individual was a great actor, one thing that everyone agrees on is that his movies had great songs.
In the mid sixties and early seventies, you knew it was Independence Day the moment you woke up because loudspeakers in almost every street corner took turns in belting out songs from M.K.’s films. While one played `Mere desh ki dharthi’ from “Upkar”, another celebrated the occasion with `Hai preet jahan ki reet sada’ from “Purab Aur Pacchim”. On August 15, songs from M.K.’s films invariably topped the charts. Listening to them filled you with a sense of pride; they made you feel that our Bharat with its wonderful people was the greatest nation in the world. Of course, one could argue that the India that was eulogized in the songs probably existed during the Ram Rajya. But this is Kaliyug, and there is a big difference between the Bharat that M.K. sang about, and the Bharat we live in right now; especially for us teachers. A lot of changes have taken place between then and now, and unfortunately for us, our stock has gone South.
For one thing, we are conspicuously absent in the ‘wanted’ list in most matrimonial columns. A casual glance at this section makes it clear that most parents are not keen on embracing a teacher as their potential son/daughter in law: software engineers, doctors, and MBAs, on the other hand, are considered a catch worthy of reeling in. We, on the other hand, are seldom mentioned, and even if we are, we come at the bottom of the totem pole. Being the husband or wife of a ‘guruji’ is considered passé. There was a time when being the ‘significant other’ of the humble teacher was considered an honour. Not anymore. As one of my cousins told me recently, “You are lucky that you are a part of the previous generation. If you had been born 25 years later, no girl would have married you. You must be grateful that someone chose to marry you. Go and fall at your wife’s feet.”
‘Acharya devo bhava’: an old saying that has more or less been expunged from the mind of most Indians. The only time that it finds any mention at all is on Teachers’ Day when politicians and others of the same ilk tell us what a noble profession ours is, and how important a role we play in shaping the minds of future generations. As for those whose future we seemingly hold in our hands, their interest in us wanes once they reach middle school, after which they spend their time either ignoring us or devising ways to torture us. When they get older, they take matters into their own hands and become physical. It is not uncommon for college students nowadays to abuse teachers, lock them up in rooms, drag them out of classrooms and beat them physically if they are not given the marks they think they deserve.
Yet in the media, it is our image that has taken a severe beating. Not a week goes by without the media taking pot shots at us; tired of writing about the usual suspects – politicians and the police – we are now being painted as the new villains on the block. We are accused of not only physically abusing our ‘shishyas’, but also mentally torturing them to such an extent that they are driven to commit suicide. TV channels cry themselves hoarse about how antiquated our methods of teaching are, and how intimidating our classroom demeanour is. When we attempt to practice what has suggested in modern books, and try not to overburden the child, parents cry foul. “Please give my son some homework. Because he has nothing to do, he sits in front of the TV all the time. If we don’t let him watch TV, he keeps bothering me and my husband. You must do something. Keep him busy.” Nosy news channels do not pick up on these stories. Nor do they air stories about teachers in government schools who sometimes get their salary once in six months. They are content to focus on the negatives; we are soft targets and therefore they need not get their facts right.
Despite all odds, we soldier on. Will things get better for teachers? Will our students revere us like the way they do in Manoj Kumar films? I don’t know. But you know what they say, what goes around, comes around. Till they do come around, I guess I will be falling at my wife’s feet.
The author teaches at The English and Foreign Languages University, Hydearbad. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.