No one explained why the paper planes that fly in the classroom glide effortlessly at times but nose-dive most often. Nobody ever asked such questions as minds were not encouraged to be inquisitive. It would be presumptuous to interrupt the class with questions and riskier if they turned out to be foolish.
I was in class VIII when the English teacher asked us to write an essay on what we would like to be when we grew up. As a child, I fancied being a steam engine driver with the thrill of driving the engine in the dead of night across the fields accompanied by the rhythm of the wheels and occasional long whistle, watching the stars and stopping at stations to drink coffee from the IR restaurants without the risk of ever missing the train. But afraid of being reprimanded, I wrote about some mundane ambition.
My friend Chellappa, more imaginative and bolder, refused to divulge the subject he wrote about. In the last hour of the day, the English teacher walked in. From his ominous look, we could smell that something untoward was about to happen. “Chellappa,” he bellowed, “Come here.” Chellapa walked up with trepidation towards the table.
“So, you want to be a scientist,” he roared and laughed hysterically like Gabbar Singh in Sholay. The entire class joined the laughter only to be stopped abruptly by the tight slap my friend got. “What is your optional subject,” the teacher asked.
Chellappa mumbled, “Book-keeping.”
“How dare you want to be a scientist, having chosen book-keeping,” he demanded.
My pal replied meekly, “Sir, you asked us to write what we would like to be and not what we would be.” Rebuffed, the teacher dismissed him from the class with the words"Chellappa,veliyae sellappa".
The teacher also ridiculed a boy who had a squeaky voice and wished to be a play back singer and another who took part only in the lemon-and-spoon race but wished to excel as an Olympic runner. Then, there was the boy who opted for Tamil medium on account of his poor scores in English, but wished to be a playwright like Shakespeare. The unimaginative teacher, who had neither vision nor compassion, smothered all the harmless instincts of the children. The young minds, peculiarly sensitive to ridicule, never recovered from the shock.
Luckily, this teacher was an exception. I have known several scholarly teachers who responded to their calling with sincerity and passion despite the pittance they received. They shaped minds and stoked fires that lay latent in young hearts. They would discover talent-academic, aesthetic and technical-and stimulate and guide the children to become proficient in their chosen skills. The teacher should act as a trigger, letting children roam free in their minds and seek answers to their unresolved questions. He should rejoice at the discovery of kindled spirits and provide the answers wherever he can.