Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Kindling the young minds

I remember this was one of my early stories written almost two decades back and an apt one for Teachers Day. Many of my current readers might have missed it.

Our former President Dr.Kalam always exhorted students to dream, hoping that dreams may ignite their minds to accomplish great things. This wasn’t so a few decades ago for back, as then a dream was associated with slumber and I still remember getting whacked for yawning in class. Yawn, I did not know then, is a prelude to sleep often induced by boring subjects or people.

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 sense that something untoward was about to happen.

“Chellappa,” he bellowed, “come here.” Chellappa walked 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 wish to be and not what we would be.” Rebuffed, the teacher dismissed him from the class.

The teacher also ridiculed a boy who had a squeaky voice and wished to be a playback 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 in English 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 those years. 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.


  1. What a wonderful piece on this day! It will bring back a lot of memories to almost all the readers..I remember in one biology class a friend of mine was asleep and he was woken up by the teacher and reprimanded heavily...another day, in the same class another boy fell asleep and we were gleefully expecting the same treatment..the same teacher noticed him and told us not to wake him up.He said the boy must had inadequate sleep and needed more rest and oxygen..I still remember the second day more.Thank you KP sir for bringing back that memory- asit ganguly

  2. Very true.... happy teacher's day

  3. Reminds me of a story. A teacher told a student that at your age (7) Abraham Lincoln worked part-time to feed his family and went to school. And you are no good. The student replied: At your age (45) John F. Kennedy was the President of USA.

  4. Teacher in school alone is not guiding us to our future. So many people starting from mother,father,brothers,sisters, grand parents friends and colleagues,and sll contacts in life have taught us some lesson or the other. SALUTE to all teachers!

  5. Much needed thought provoking write up. 👏👏👏👏. A good teacher doesn’t prepare the students just with exam results point of view Once the good teacher stirs up the interest in the subject that is taught , the students will learn well

    1. This comment is from Mrs. Chitra Solomon

  6. KP sir, so true about the days of yore. Perhaps, in today’s world, with more awareness, more exposure and more access to knowledge, the present day teachers are able to kindle, awaken or inspire the young minds!

  7. Well written my teacher.. You have always pushed me to learn more and guided me through.
    Agree, a teacher shd ignite the spark in the child and guide through. Unfortunately, these days, teacher student relationship is guided by prejudice and materialistic actions.

  8. A nice narrative that reflected the experiences of almost all who had been students. I tend to believe that the ability to motivate and inspire is inherent to a few individuals only, who are not necessarily teachers by vocation. While it is very true that in popular imagination, a formal teacher is always assigned the role of a guiding angel, the individual concerned may prefer only to focus on being a competent tutor so as to enlighten the students on the course contents. Can it be considered a shortcoming of the individual that he/she is not a motivator. I hope not! On this very special day, I pay my deepest respects and regards not only to the motivators, but also to the sincere and dedicated band of individuals who took upon themselves the onerous task of enlightening the young souls on the formal course contents.

  9. Very timely and relevant post. Teaching has become commercial and superficial. Those days they just taught for the love of it and to genuinely bring out the best in their students. But still asking questions was not encouraged, as the education system had changed from our traditional teaching methods when asking questions and debating were part of learning.

  10. Very apt story for the occasion. Imagination is what fuels human advancement. It should be shaped and encouraged by teachers, not harshly and mindlessly snuffed out.

  11. Thought provoking. Verynice.

  12. Sad but true. I guess the teachers needed to be taught, better!

  13. Thank you for being my teacher and thank you for not restricting me in my choice of studies .

  14. Sad but true. The teachers needed to be taught better too!

  15. Poignant and sadly true. I was reflecting on why students shower the teachers with so much of love and adulation and could not fathom the impact and influence they left on children. If at all a miniscule but that is enough to charter a path to glory!

  16. This is a sad reality for many.
    Such "teachers" have no right to impact the impressionable minds this way. Which student can get over such shocks?
    Not all are Albert Einstein or Edison who still became scientists despite teacher & school's ridicule.