Nostalgia isn’t as much fun when our unfiltered past is measured against possibilities that exist today. But there’s one possibility that has made me want to be in school again: the retrospective prospect of holding protest against my teachers.
The news that spurred my pent-up emotions was that earlier this week some kids in a government school in Mohali weren’t quite thrilled at being turned into lassi- suppliers and errandrunners by their teachers, and thus held protest at the school gates. This was quite unlike our good old times, when knitting and munching on peanuts during lecture time seemed part of a teacher’s duty. We, the gullible goons of the ’90s, may have quietly tolerated the saas-bahu or biwi-paisa gossip of our female and male teachers, respectively. Not these kids!
Actually, the laugh-inducing slogan — ‘We are not your servants!’ — against teachers in Mohali reminded me of a joke by Punjab’s potential political saviour Bhagwant Mann from his days as a socially aware comedian.
A portly teacher in a village school asks his student Jugnu (Mann) what he wants to be when he grows up. Holding up his hookless pants, Jugnu replies, “I’ll be a police-wallah, master-ji." Surprised but impressed, the cane-wielding teacher asks Jugnu why. But Jugnu is armed with the crude wit of a rural kid, and giggles, “Master- ji, when you’ll protest at Matka Chowk, I’ll take revenge for my daily beatings with a lathicharge.”
Jugnu’s reply gets him a lathi-charge from master- ji instead, but Mann’s skit certainly reads the pulse of the public and the time to come, like all comedy should. It’s besides the point that protests in Chandigarh are now held at an assigned, obscure corner in Sector 25. Water tanks are more popular.
If you’re in a hurry to theorise an impatient generation’s actions, the students-protesting-against-teachers story may look like a pointer towards the crumbling guru-shishya tradition. But here we aren’t speaking of colleges or university campuses, those playgrounds of violent political minds. Schools are supposed to be innocent; no?
I shall admit — brazen is the new honest anyway! — that my inner child can also think of a hundred times when I would’ve ignited a stir against our English teacher Mrs Malhotra, who was way too definite about the present indefinite tense; or Balwinder Madam, whose lessons in chemistry felt more like acid attacks; even Dabbu Sir, whose theatrical ways of teaching mathematics got our undivided attention but multiplied our exam blues; and particularly against my kindergarten teacher, that pretty, angelic creature who did not marry me despite promising to.
But let’s not be in a hurry to blame either side. To those of us who have seen funds for library books being shamelessly pocketed by our underqualified, over-trusted political leaders, the students’ protest should come as an obvious consequence of a greed-driven system, in which boiling frustrations lead to clashes between two sets of victims. The actual offenders — elected by the buyable herd — watch with a smirk.
Don’t go too far to figure out the frustrations; they’re up there, on water tanks! The teachers who have jobs rue working on contracts and temporary wages, also doubling up as clerks, accountants, even recordkeepers, in Punjab’s education department that is devoid of a support structure. The government of the day ignores 'Sholay'-style protests by qualified young men and women. That, in a state where there’s a severe shortage of teachers. Who needs teachers? Empty promises of free bicycles and laptops hold more lessons than any school.
As for students, their parents want more attention for their sons and daughters in an increasingly elitist and urban world, where those from government schools remain outcasts. Let’s not judge the students, or even their parents. After all, most matters in our mature democracy are decided on the street these days. Shout with me: ‘Malhotra Madam… Haaye haaye!’
IN PASSING I read last week that some teachers in Chandigarh had been suspended for some kind of ‘mass bunk’.
Without going into specifics, I have a demand: There should be no action for such noble gestures by the guru community. Plus, I want to ask God: Where were such angels when I was in school?