Wednesday, March 07, 2007

What an onerous task Mother has placed upon us

M E M O R I E S My Teachers Lopamudra ’94 FEBRUARY 2005 The Golden Chain
It is ten years since I finished Knowledge. The monsoons were drenching my heart that October. To say goodbye sounded like the last sad tinkling of the temple bells after a ceremony. Now when I wonder whence comes that fragrance, I am attracted to those flowers pressed in the book of my school days. And I realize how the Mother and Sri Aurobindo working through all our teachers have planted tree after tree in each of our gardens. I want to thank all my teachers, although there are no words to describe gratitude. Pardon me for mentioning only a few of them while there are so many I will never forget.
When I was in my early teens the day began with Sudinam Arya in the Corner House. In the second period we met with the same Arya who taught us mathematics. In the afternoon in the old Hall of Harmony with the cotton tree as a backdrop, we chanted the Bhagavad Geeta — again same teacher. In Group he taught us long jump and ran with us in our 100 metre sprint, screaming with the wind, "flex your knees". At night back in Corner House we analyzed our basketball game and decided anger should be conquered. All this came from one teacher, Bharat-arya, during our crucial growing years. We were learning a new paradigm in mathematics and only such a skillful teacher could make it an adventure. Sanskrit I have never known better than when I was his student. He reminded us again and again to "internalize" these teachings and be "conscious". Later when I had graduated from the Bharat-arya age, I applied his teaching to improve my swimming style, to do long jump and in so many ways he was still my mentor. Those were the fastest years of progress, when teacher and friend and guide and sometimes even playful antagonist, Bharat-arya, kept us jogging at his speed. Without knowing it, we imbibed the enthusiasm to learn and excel. Is this what the ancients called a Gurukul?
Vijayendra-bhai was fun and witty. His physics explanations were sprinkled with punch lines which made it impossible for students to sleep. He had a Captain Haddock style of interjecting, with expressions like "Espèce de Paoli!" He re-named us, the new name often resembling our original name. I was Lopeze, rhyming with "trapeze" — I suppose it is spelt this way for it is the first time I am writing the name. It was fun to have another name, as if you were acting in a drama. In Group he ran with us with his hockey stick and arched his back to get the softball. But always the joyous spirit shone forth. Apart from classes and coaching, he took a personal interest in his students. He gave us tips on health and asked about our achievements in the competitions. Once he offered to mediate between me and my best friend, but we preferred to fight it out.
Richard was another loving teacher. After drawing spiders in Nanteuil, we went to Cazanove and ate Chinese lemons. Then we cycled to the pier and studied barnacles under the rotting jetty. He placed his finger on my frowning forehead while I wrote the biology test. Sometimes now I catch myself frowning and think of the wise and gentle Richard.
Manoj-da (Das Gupta) was my mathematics and physics teacher in Knowledge and in his brilliant manner planted the fundamental concepts deeply in our minds. In those days I thought if I could imbibe the truths of physical reality the way he imparted them to us, very soon I would see Unity. On the last day of my schooling in the Ashram, he read out a story, for the sake of "madhurena samapayet". It was a story written by Rabindranath Tagore about a child, who dreams of becoming a pilot, but his practical-minded father intervenes. There was a line that caught my throat — the boy wanted to fly in the sky where float millions of unfulfilled wishes. It made me cry, as I too had dreams and ideals painted in the sky, and on that day I was being launched from the aircraft of the Ashram School, and did I know if I had a parachute or a load on my back?
My English teachers were gems — Priti-di, Jhumur-di, Veena-di, David — all of them. Babu-da was the most dramatic and poured his versatile knowledge on us. He spoke in idioms and quoted from poetry. He shared a treasure of information on varied subjects that I wrote down in a special "Babu-da notebook". Even now the rich assortment never stops to fascinate people, and they ask me where I collected such interesting facts from. All from the same source, friends. His most important teaching was asking us to write every scrap of English as if it were literature. I used to think literature was an exclusive club of Shelley’s and Oscar Wilde’s. My heart was so puffed, that whatever I wrote did sound like literature. And Babu-da read out those of our essays that were good before the whole class, cried "hats off", applauded, stuck feathers in our cap, and did everything to make us strive and strive till we almost dreamed poems like Coleridge and spoke verses like Alexander Pope. Later, in Knowlegde, Manoj-da (Das) opened a new facet of literature. He unearthed so many meanings even in apparently simple writings, that I caught myself pondering "what more would Manoj-da glean from this..." It is said about humans, that we are made up of layers like an onion — Manoj-da pealed off these layers from a piece of writing and revealed them to us one by one, more alluring than a magician, subtly creating a world that we had missed.
When in EAVP, Swadesh-da was always teaching Science to the class next door and making the ‘Arts’ students love Science, while I sat impatient to do Science and was not allowed to be his audience. Finally in Knowledge I captured him. What a magnificent journey it was in the new world of electronics. He added other interesting corollaries to his teaching, with the cycling picnic and a birthday family party. It was a charm to go to his house and meet my past and present teachers together around the same table, and all of them memorable. The best junior Bengali dramas I did were directed by Manjushree-di; in Delafon I had learned French from Anjushree-di; in Knowledge I studied The Foundations of Indian Culture with Debranjan-da, and Swadhin-da filmed a documentary where I was a narrator.
We hardly heard Ajanta-di enter the classroom as we were upside down busy in the wall-peacock competition. She never scolded us, rather encouraged us to make mistakes, for mistakes teach, and more mistakes teach more! Kanupriyo-da was so intense while reading Rabindranath Tagore’s sad poems, lifting his voice to a crescendo and dropping to a whisper in the next line. Baren-da introduced the heroic tales of Bankim Chandra and entreated us to bear with the unfamiliar language. Despite the stuffy afternoons and the rainy moods, the patience of the Bengali teachers taught me at last to respect the language and see the beauty that has captured so many hearts. Finally I was reading Sharat Chandra rather than Jane Austin.
I have had the best geography and history teachers, whose influence I feel most strongly. The passion I have for seeing a united world stem from the days of Subhash-da’s class in Progrès. His class lasted barely a period in the whole week but I wished it could be the whole week. There was a glossy book full of pictures, the Grand Canyon and the Amazon Basin, the tribes of Chile and the rituals of Tibet, piranhas and avocados, and all those fascinating far reaches of the earth. Then Lipi-di added ecology and Prakash-bhai, political geography. Beni-da and Kittu-da complemented Nature’s stories with the human story and the whole grew into a rich fabric of the multicoloured flag of the world. Suddenly the name of my School seems so apt, Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education. My school is International because it urges me to cast off divisions of nation, caste, religion and race and all the other sentiments that cut the globe into clods of earth.
Today while I am taught by life and her less lenient teachers, I think of the Students’ Prayer and realize what an onerous task Mother has placed upon us. I pray that I can remain Her hero warrior and always be prepared to welcome the future. 

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