A teacher's triumph

Last Updated 14 September 2013, 14:02 IST

“We are conducting a workshop for aspiring writers, that is, for writers of children’s literature. Since you have done some work in that field, can you please attend as one of the teachers?”, the principal of the workshop asked me over the phone.

I had hesitated. “It is just a three day-workshop. They all want to write stories for children. Please teach them how to go about it. You will be rendering a service to the little sweet beings,” the principal explained. That did it.

However, a big surprise awaited me when I stepped into the camp. Instead of the teenaged or middle-aged participants I had envisaged, people in their fifties and sixties were sitting sedately with big diaries and notebooks on their laps and pen poised for writing. The eager look of anticipation on their simple visages was enough to bring tears to anyone’s eyes.

“Our grandchildren and of the neighbours pester us to tell them stories, and they want a new one everyday, like the Arabian Nights. Somebody suggested that we try writing stories. So here we are,” they chorused.

Their infectious enthusiasm caught up with us. Watching them earnestly at work, I experienced a sort of blissful pleasure. Those were real grannies indeed, unselfishly making an effort to meet the expectations of the youngest generation.

When the workshop was coming to a close, we decided to hold a small exam, to see how well they fared. They agreed with self-confidence, but on the condition that we teachers also participated.

“Then you people won’t be able to get a rank,” we warned them in all seriousness. “Let us see,” they smiled. We also smiled at their self-confidence. But the smile changed over to bewilderment when we found ourselves beaten in the game by the new writers. But then, a smile of fulfillment also crept in, for it is commonly said that a teacher has failed if he has not been surpassed by his students.

One evening, a few years later, I was walking home from a grocery store, when something unexpected happened. “Teacher... Teacher...” the eager, happy tone made me pause and retrace my steps, to stare questioningly at the woman smiling at me. Now, where had I seen her? The face looked familiar.

“I am Sumitra, your student,” she introduced herself. “Don’t you remember? You were one of the teachers who taught us how to write for children.” Yes, now it clicked. “Wasn’t Subbamma your name?” I said with a puzzled look on my face.

“Yes, but I changed my name to Sumitra after I became a writer and publisher. I move in high circles now and Subbamma doesn’t go well. We have to move on with the times, no?” She spoke of the hurdles she had to encounter to achieve her goal. It was fantastic, the way she sat tight and wrote children’s stories all night, and told them to the children at home and around. And when no magazine or publisher would take it, she borrowed money from her relatives and published the collections herself under the new name Sumitra.

“Now my books are selling well, and I have repaid all the loans. I am also publishing similar collections of others like me. As saint Purandaradas once said, Kereya Neeranu Kerege Chellu (Give back to the tank, the water that you took from it).”

Suddenly, she started giggling. When I looked at her, enquiringly, with a roguish twinkle in her eyes, she repeated the parting advice I had given to them all —“Don’t worry if your husband doesn’t encourage your efforts at first. He may fume and show his resentment at being neglected, but he will change overnight when you place two or three cheques in his hand. From then on, it will be the other way around. He will go on pestering you to write.”

Success seemed to have wrought a discernible change in my student’s personality. Where was that diffident Subbamma? Tears came to my eyes, as I saw that beaming face and heard that voice brimming over with self-confidence and fulfillment. Now, who had said — ‘A teacher affects eternity. He can never tell where his influence stops.’ Henry Adams?
Whoever it may have been, he has quoted wisely. I thanked God for having given me the unique opportunity of participating in the noble project. Kereya neeranu kerege chellu.

(Published 14 September 2013, 14:02 IST)

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