I was lost in some deep reverie as I stood on the platform, waiting for my train. The platform was a chaos of people…
People from different walks of life, bound to different destinations, presenting a brief glimpse of their worlds to a casual observer.
As I watched people rush past me, my own world suddenly seemed to come to a standstill. In the moments that lay until my train arrived, I slipped into a state of non-existence. The uncertainty that had been haunting me for a while, faded into the background.
People were slowly settling. A porter was handing out tea and snacks to people in the compartment of the passenger train that would leave in a few minutes. A mother was struggling frantically to pacify a baby who had been crying for the last ten minutes. A girl was hurrying down the steps, desperate to make it to the train.
A train arrived on the opposite platform and the platform that had been quiet, suddenly turned into chaos. People bumping into each other….struggling to get past each other on the stairs….porters unloading cartons off the train. The guard blew the whistle and the passenger train slowly inched out of the platform.
The station suddenly turned still and quiet. The contrast was striking. I had just witnessed how it took only a moment for everything to change.
Even the deepest chaos could abruptly give way to tranquility.
I smiled at the thought of how I felt most alive at that moment. It has always been so. It is not in my moments of self-absorption that I have felt alive. I have always felt most alive when I slip into this nothingness.
In the moments between the arrival and departure of a train….
In the moments I look out of the window of a speeding bus or train at the moving canvas of landscape that refuses to pause….
In the moments that I am lost amidst an ocean of people….
In the moments that I stare at the infinity of a clear blue sky….
‘Ma’m!’, I heard someone screaming.
I turned around to see three familiar faces, smiling wide at me. My ex-students. Their excited faces lit up my heart. I went back to those days with them. I had loved it….right from the beginning to the end. For a teacher, the most elating moment is when students you have tutored finally begin to ask you questions that make you think. Their batch had given me that moment and I had hugged that moment. We teachers are rather fortunate for even in the modern world, we continue to receive the kind of sincere love and gratitude that perhaps only students are capable of.
We learnt….and we learnt without really realizing it….we learnt with conversations, laughter and lack of fear…we learnt the subject through the fantasies you created. Won’t you come back and teach us again?
This was their question. I smiled. ‘We miss you every single day.‘ I missed them too. For us teachers, there is no comparison between batches and students. But every batch treats us to its unique moments. In retrospect, those moments attain a nostalgic charm. ‘Our Paithalmala trip is pending. You promised you would come!‘. Yes….I had promised them. And I will. For the love of nature and for the love of my students. ‘I am desperately trying to relocate to Kannur. Once I do that, I promise we will go!‘. They beamed and finally, bid goodbye. I watched them walk away and I realized how much I loved my students. All of them. Right from the ones I taught during my postgraduate days to the ones I teach today.
There is something in their emotions that is raw….that carries the excitement, exhilaration and optimism of youth….that instills hope.
Perhaps it is possible to create a better world tomorrow if we work hard today to keep their spirits alive. The sound of the engine in the distance made me look up from my reverie and put an end to my thoughts.
When I reached Kozhikode, it was dusk. I thought back to all those times I had alighted at Kozhikode with my heart soaring. Work had been my greatest motivation and somehow, when things are alright at workplace, everything around you looks beautiful and promising. I loved the feel of Kozhikode, the touch of humanity it still retained, its streets that retained something of its essence.
I have always been able to listen to places and I have always loved places that speak. Kozhikode always spoke to me.
Cities and villages to me, are ancient people, immensely rich in character, brimming with stories. I love them just as I love the wisdom and affection of old people.
It was my greatest desire to explore the length and breadth of this city. There was a strange affection I felt towards the fisherman who let us watch him fish, casting his net deftly into the sea with his practised hands….towards the bearded man in rags, who gazed at the sea, perhaps reminiscing better times in this city….towards the old gentleman on S.M.Street who patiently displayed all his wares for me to see, never taking offence at my curiosity. As Muslims, Hindus and Christians went about their livelihood on crowded market streets, conversing and laughing to drown the ache of the struggle in their lives, religion went unnoticed…
On these streets, one only saw the toil for livelihood that binds humanity.
I shall never forget the palpable warmth of these streets. There was that feeling of wanting to hug every human being here, for Kozhikode still retained a good bit of the humanity that once thrived in abundance in our villages and towns. And perhaps that is why art is very much alive here. For true art thrives on humanity. There is music in the hearts of people here….irrespective of their class or creed. Ghazal nights and classical music concerts cater to Hindus and Muslims alike….to the rich and to the poor. In Kozhikode, music unites people for the people here continue to seek soulful music. People have a deep reverence for education. Book-lovers are in abundance.
A wound within me sends an ache that briefly disrupts this beautiful feeling. The wound is my workplace. Over the last several months, I watched work transform from being an inspiration to something that could no longer move me. Dead and numb is what I have felt. I have spent the last one month at home, dreading to get back to my current workplace. There is such a huge barrier between me and my students. Between what I am eager to give them and what they have always loved to take, there is the ‘system’…
The system, with its political and capitalistic interests, the insecurities and complexes of peers, the complicated nature of the strategical games they play, and all the other nuances you can name.
It is an energy game, and when the energy balance tilts unfavourably, you lose the drive to continue. Then you have to rest and find ways to replete your energy. As I lay in bed, recovering from my flu and anemia and cognitive exhaustion, I felt blank. The strange relief of not having to think or plan. Physical illness sometimes is a blessing for the mind.
Little messages poured in from my students. There were steady interactions with them and at that moment of numbness, it was they who brought back feeling into me. ‘Are you planning to leave the institution?,’ they asked. ‘Most likely‘, I said. ‘We will miss you, but wherever you go, we hope you will keep bringing in a transformation around you.‘ This was their answer.
Students always surprise me. For they leave me awed at what they are capable of. The maturity of thought and the sensitivity they are capable of. From the discussions on Aamir Khan’s statement to the tragedy of the educational system in India, they have surprised me with their insight and their maturity. Something visibly absent in most of their teachers.
I sometimes wish medical colleges were like paramedical colleges or like schools. One teacher exclusively for one subject. It would mean a lot of workload for the teacher, but it would take away the complications. Wishful thinking.
When I stepped into college today after a month’s absence, I felt detached. There was no sense of belonging. I had made up my mind to leave. When was the only question. I sat in my cabin, relieved that I had put an end to months of conflict. Just as I stood up to go and meet the HR, a batch of students I had taught before I had gone on leave, rushed to me, overjoyed at seeing me back. They all spoke simultaneously. Of their relief that I had come back. Of the chapters in my absence that made no sense to them. I was in a dilemma. At the beginning of this year, I had inaugurated classes for them and for the MBBS students. With lots of promises. With words that promised to make the course exciting. With promises of mentorship and opportunities for active learning. Nothing worked out.
The dilemma continues. The conflict between the responsibility towards the students who are waiting for my decision and the need to care for my own self, continues. I wait in uncertainty as decisions hang in the air.
The definitions of success and failure have suddenly blurred in my mind….
Perhaps success is often the outcome of multiple failures that never reached their outcome, but paved the paths to that outcome. Others may walk these paths tomorrow and achieve that outcome, and through them, you see yourself succeeding!