Ever since he was nine years old, Bibaswan Ganguly’s only dream has been to become a rifle shooting champion. Like his father, who was forced to give up his dreams due to a lack of funds, Bibaswan was on the verge of having to sacrifice his passion when he was rescued by his guardian angel.
Kuheli Ganguly met Bibaswan in 2003. Immensely taken in by his enthusiasm, she decided to coach him free of charge. Their story took a fantastic and fairytale-like turn.
“She was never just a coach,” Bibaswan says. “She’s been there to offer any kind of support – whether it’s for my education, my sport or just psychological.”
During his foray into the rather expensive sport, Bibaswan’s family wasn’t financially stable enough to sponsor him. “Kuheli di bought me equipment that are imported and very expensive. When I made it to the national team, she’s the one who drove me to the airport. She would always give me the confidence to go for my dream,” Bibaswan says.
During the try-outs for the Indian 10-metre rifle shooting team, Bibaswan was up against greats like Abhinav Bindra and Gagan Narang – both Olympic medallists who held a myth-like status in the young boy’s mind. “Kuheli di kept telling me that the only important thing was to give my best and that everyone was human,” he says.
Today, people say that computers will soon become effective substitute for teachers. While technology has greatly aided learning, especially in those parts of the world that most desperately need good teachers, can computers truly substitute that person who fascinates us, opens our mind and encourages us to push ourselves to realise our goals? If these Kolkata kids are to be believed, then the answer is a resounding no. Teachers are guiding stars. Without them students are like a boat without a rudder.
“My history and sociology teacher at school is a storehouse of knowledge. When she was teaching us about World War II, she’d give us little titbits of information like the fact that Mussolini called Hitler a ‘mad little clown’ and that the Black Shirt’s motto, translated from Italian, literally meant ‘We don’t give a damn’,” says 18-year-old Tannistha Sinha from Calcutta Girls’ High School.
What her teacher did was to make a subject like history – known to drive many young students to slumber –accessible and fun. “She draws, acts and makes history vividly real. I love listening to her in the class,” Tannistha adds.
In college, the dynamics change. Students are technically adults, and with more room for debate in class, their relationships with teachers take on a different platform.
For 19-year-old Ritayan Basu getting a chance to study at St Xavier’s College’s English department was like a dream come true. “Our very first class with professor Bertram Da Silva quite literally blew my mind. It was very simple. He gave us a poem – Lake Isle of Innisfree – and told us to read it to ourselves. Then, he asked us to read one line aloud. The simple act of teaching us how to properly read a poem, to glean the true sense of what the writer was saying was so fundamental but so easily overlooked; that’s what sets him apart,” Ritayan says.
“I used to bunk classes a lot in my first year,” says 19-year-old Jiten Jha from Scottish Church College. “And when I started attending classes regularly, people would look at me askance since my college is very strict about discipline. Then, the head of my department took me under her wing, encouraged me, and explained that I’d never be able to discern what did or didn’t interest me if I didn’t try it out first,” he says.
She was the only one who gave Jiten a chance when others had assumed that he would get nowhere. This changed everything. Jiten is now so involved that he was made secretary of the college’s literary club. “Your whole world changes in college. You think of it as freedom from discipline, but it’s really about finding yourself within a very different environment,” he adds.
In the same way that school isn’t just for learning, teachers don’t only provide information. They act as link between the learner and the lesson, between mind and matter. For young people, whose only other adult interaction is with their parents, a special teacher plays a huge role in creating ideals and bridging gaps. “The term friend, philosopher and guide truly applies to teachers like these,” Tannistha says.