Wandering soul

wandering

Great start to the week, James mused looking at the bleary-eyed fifth years rummaging their backpacks for paint and brushes. Art was the first class on Mondays.

He walked amongst students, now hunched over with brush strokes waltzing on canvases. Later at his desk, James was skirting through the paintings when he stopped at Jason’s. Jason’s family had fallen apart a few months ago, James knew, when his widower father had left, leaving Jason in his grandmother’s care.

James stared at Jason’s painting—a boat adrift the sun-kissing ocean— and realised Jason had drawn not a boat but his heart.

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An uncanny realisation

an uncanny realisation

A few weeks ago I met with an old school friend. We had a lot to discuss about the last six years that had elapsed since we last saw each other. But of all things we spoke of, one stood out to me, nagging me from within.

She mentioned our school principal, Mrs. D. She also taught English Literature for senior classes during our time, and I had the opportunity to sit through her classes for a short 2 months before changing schools. The last thing I had heard of Mrs. D was that she had retired. I had no idea of her current whereabouts until my friend revealed it to me.

Mrs. D now taught English for adults from the comfort of her home. “Oh, nice!” I exclaimed when I heard that. I knew my teacher could never stop teaching, but I hadn’t thought of her moving on from enlightening school students to adults. Nevertheless, I was happy to hear that she had moved on and enjoyed retirement.

My friend continued her story. Everyone in school knew how much Mrs. D appreciated good music. She’d nod her head, smiling, whenever a student played the grand piano in the auditorium. And then she’d voice her admiration to the entire school during assembly. She was also a great pianist herself.

And so when my friend told me that Mrs. D still played the piano whenever she had time, I took a hike down my mind to those days when we’d file into the auditorium every morning, beating our feet to crescendos and staccatos. But the fleeting image burst like a gum bubble when I heard Mrs. D couldn’t play as often as she’d liked to because she had wrist pains and nerve issues. “Old age, you know.” My friend commented, offhand. It was just a matter of fact. At that moment, my reality stood still.

I hadn’t thought of my teachers getting old. I had been so busy focussing on my life and the changes I underwent that I didn’t even pause to think that my teacher had a life of her own—a life that went by just as mine did. My memory of Mrs. D was frozen in the classroom, and that I could walk into class tomorrow, flip the page of my text-book, and continue reading between the lines of Iago’s speech.

I hadn’t, even for a moment, considered that my teacher’s life no longer involved striding into class in a smart sari and not-so-heeled shoes. I hadn’t thought of her slumping on the couch in a sweatshirt, or watching television after 10 pm. Somehow, it never struck me that teachers are normal people, too, and that as they grew older, they’d also grow weak in the knees, stutter in their speech, and caress wrinkled skins.

It made me feel old to hear the reality of my teacher. She wasn’t as old as dying a natural death, but she was older than my image of her, and for a while, I couldn’t accept that. Here we were, standing at the airport, chatting away like a couple of adults discussing serious economic issues, when in truth neither of us felt adult-like at all. We had, of course, walked out formal education and into employment, but our memories still lived in the same school uniforms that we clad six years ago.

Oh, how much we hated Mrs. D’s rules. She made us all wear ribbons on our hair and would ensure our skirts reached well below our knees—the punishment for improper length being teachers undoing the hemming our skirts to make them longer.

Yet now, life had turned the tables on us and we just stared in longing into the mirror of our memories, that shadowed fondest part of our lives.

Discovery

I hate mobs. They make me nervous. Even as I think about it, my heart bangs in its cage and my legs start to tremble threatening to give way at any moment. And speaking in front of a gathering is awful. Give me a mike and put me under the spotlight, and I’ll be reduced to a slump.

Or, at least, that’s what I thought it would be like.

In school and at work, I’ve had to explain something to a bunch of people. But every time that happens, I freak out so much that my speech loses all sense. And that’s why I was beyond “just nerves” when I heard I’d have to conduct a session in a workshop at my job.
To complicate things, I already knew a bit about my audience: they were all stay-at-home married women. Some had kids, some had more time. Most of them were single- or double-degree holders on a break after marriage. And all of them were at least 10 years older than I. Talk about intimidation.

I needed several deep breaths. And a few gulps — of air.

How would I explain something to them without coming off as a young and insufferable know-it-all? I had so many doubts; people hated contradictions, and a school kid telling older women what to do, isn’t most people’s idea of an ideal workshop. They would’ve expected somone much older-looking, taller, and experienced to conduct an educational workshop.

And yet, when I stood in front of the audience, the glare from the projector almost blinding me, the uncertainty disappeared from my mind. All of a sudden, I was looking at a bunch of people eager to learn; they didn’t care that my head, while I stood, was at their eye while they sat.

Clutching the mike, I, for the first time, felt confident facing a crowd. I was calm. My legs were steady, my heartbeat didn’t sound like a siren, and my pulse wasn’t racing. I began, and I felt myself smiling. I realised how easy it felt. It felt natural talking to these women who wanted to learn and to listen. And then, out of nowhere, I discovered I had matured so much from the shy and cowering schoolgirl I was until a few years ago.

I had grown up at last. And for once, all was well.

Honesty Is the Best Policy

honesty

From primary school to middle and even in high school, we’ve vouched for honesty countless times. It’s embedded in our heads even without our consent.

But we also know they’re just empty words.How honest could we sound about being honest when we know so well that it would squash us? It’s how life is. Nowadays, no one can be honest and have a peaceful life at the same time.

How honest could we sound about being honest when we know so well that it would squash us? It’s how life is. Nowadays, no one can be honest and have a peaceful life at the same time.

Because once you realise the truth leads to misery, you wouldn’t want to take that route.

It starts small, like students telling their parents they finished homework, when they hadn’t. It’s so common that it’s not even breaking the being honest rule. Besides, telling the truth is too much trouble to deal with.

Likewise, a self-respecting adult wouldn’t walk up to a cop and declare they’ve hidden a stash in their car. You can’t do that and expect the law to let you go — just because you were honest.

Or perhaps this: “Honey, you look hideous. But I love you.” That’s a good punch line. And in the current state of our society, the guy may be charged with body shaming and sexism as well.

Being truthful is painful. And as humans, we try to avoid it. So much so that we don’t even feel guilty of being dishonest anymore. Why bother? It’s not as if there’s a SWAT team outside a thirteen-year old’s door sniffing for a whiff of beer.

It’s easier to hide the wrong stuff.

And we’ve landed an intolerable society because we chose the easy way rather than the right way.

For far too long, we’ve been telling children to be honest, without teaching them how. From the small things like forgetting to get the report card signed, to bigger things like forgetting to pay the taxes, it’s all about honesty — or the lack of it.

We’ve said it too many times. As a result, we nullified the meaning of it. Like when Mark Antony called Brutus an honourable man. By the end of that speech, no one thought Brutus honourable.

It’s no different with honesty. What was once a moral became a proverb, and is now a cliché. And we avoid clichés like the plague.

The government doesn’t go through every individual’s tax payments. The police don’t scour every college dorm for narcotics. And there’s no FBI breaking down doors looking for illegal weapon holders.

We shouldn’t enforce honesty but introduce it early.

We don’t need teachers reading out to students from a book that says, “Honesty is the best policy”. What we need, instead, is for them to explain the truth and the reality of facing consequences.

Live, Learn, Pass It On

I’ve always loved to talk about formal education. Or the futility of it, rather. And I enjoy people who talk about it too. But Sir Ken Robinson isn’t just another person talking about how education ruins our lives.

He’s British. That matters, but only because the accent mesmerises me. There’s more to this TED talk than a flawless speaking style.

John Lennon said, “Learn to smile as you kill.” Perhaps, Sir Ken Robinson took this to heart. Because throughout the video, he never once stops smiling. He’s not angry; he’s not biting his tongue to keep himself from swearing — though I would’ve enjoyed it — at schools that forbids children to dance without thinking, making them memorise theorems instead.

His words are brilliant.

“The education system has mined our minds in the way we strip mined the earth.”

Defining the body: “It’s a way of getting their heads to meetings.”

Here’s a small request: Please spare 20 minutes of your day for this talk. It’s so good, you’d never regret it. And maybe some time, even we could influence a child to draw out of the dotted lines.