Back to the future was an interesting movie but it had to do more with the past. We all have our back to the future. Today, somehow, I started remembering my early years as a child and what influence it has had on my life and work. It is said that as you grow and over time, the memories of childhood get faded. I somehow have very strong childhood memories and am able to recollect events and incidents back to the age of 4-5 years.
I was born in a small village of Pratapgarh district of eastern Uttar Pradesh. Life in the village as I remember was very exciting and full of learning. Today, I want to write about memories of my early school days. Maybe someone out there can benefit from it. I studied in the school village till class 4 and for all of us in the village going to school was a fun activity. Now we are talking about the 1960-63 time-frame. I remember that my village area consisted of about 150 families and most of them worked on our farms as labourers. About 90 per cent of these families belonged to the Scheduled Caste category. All the children of the village attended the village school under a tree. Irrespective of the caste all of us were together playing and studying. I do not have any memories of discrimination among the children and we were free from it.
Every morning we would wait for Munshi Ji (that is what I remember calling the teachers) to pass by my village on the way to the school. All the children would follow him and talk to him till we all reached the school. The morning walk to the school was about 1-1.5 miles. We all had special affection and respect for Munshi Ji and we all learnt immensely from him not just on the subject matter but about life in general. Munshi Ji taught us to value life and to respect the creation of God, but he did it in a way that made a place in our minds and hearts. He had instructed us that every morning when we leave for school with him, we should carry with us a packet of broken wheat or rice. As we travelled the path to the school, he wanted us to keep feeding the ants on the way. We used to have a lot of fun in this exercise and we would track the movement of the ants’ colonies every day. We had got so used to the changes in the pattern of the movements of the ants. Munshi Ji used to stop by at times at one of the ant colonies and give us some lesson on life. Now I realize what he was saying which did not make sense at that time. But then that is what real education is all about.
He gave us lessons on the power of observation by helping us focus on how the ant colonies function? He talked to us about the power of teamwork and how the ants were able to get together and move big pieces of food into their colonies. He taught us lessons to conserve and store for the rainy days as the ants do for themselves. Sometimes he would stop by at the ant colony to show us something. He would then take his walking stick and put it on the path of the ants. We would observe it for sometimes and see how the ants would, in a few minutes find a new path around the walking stick to reach their colony. Was he teaching us lessons on facing adversity and challenge? Was he trying to show us how we can find our path even when we are faced with obstacles in life?
He showed us the path to protect the nature and value the creation of God. I remember one of the days, we found a bird which had been attacked by an eagle and had been hurt in the process. We spent about half an hour with Munshi Ji in helping the bird find a safe place with food. We all nursed the bird for the next week till it could fly back in its own world. Learning to us was not only about academics but it was about lessons of life and living through examples that we are unable to forget today. So as I reflect back on those early years of my village schooling, a thought just runs through my mind. Where are those teachers like Munshi Ji who could make such an impact on their students? I am sure that my Munshi Ji will be tossing and turning in his grave at the state of education and the attitude of the teachers today.
These lessons are not taught even at Harvard, they are only available in our villages in the remotest possible places on the globe.
Lesson: You can make a difference as a teacher but you will have to think like Munshi Ji.