When I was at boarding school, a young lad of thirteen, being away from home was a most confounding feeling. So much to settle into, so much to navigate, so much to accomplish, so much to live up to, along with the pressures of carving out a niche, an identity for myself. It was tough, I’m not going to sugarcoat it. An upstart from relatively small-town Jaipur suddenly thrust into the top-notch world that was the Doon School; it was simply overwhelming. I even contemplated fleeing, I almost did too!
But my grandfather, my dearest, sweetest dadu, explained to me, the importance of sticking it out. And boy was he right. Because what followed after that brief but painful adjustment period was the best time of my life. Not just because it was ‘fun’ but because it gave me the unique opportunity to ‘discover’ myself. That, in my view, is the essential difference between day and boarding school. You are left to your own devises .. You fend for yourself. You try different things. And you figure out life, and yourself in the process.
To the point that I want to make… This does not happen automatically. Of course not. Aside from the obvious – one’s own hard work & perseverance and the encouraging camaraderie of peers; there is a vital force at work, that recognizes, and insight-fully nurtures each student. And that is, the Teacher. In my case especially, I lucked out. From my housemaster Mr.Bedhotiya and later Mr.Ray, to my Music Guru Mr.Gursharan Singh, to my economics and Squash master-in-charge Mr.Deepak Sharma, to the most unlikely, my Sanskrit teacher (I say unlikely because I must have set a record of the number of times a student can fail that class!); these were men who were not just father figures, they inspired, pushed, invested time and effort in me, understood me deeply, and dispensed the kind of non-preachy advice that made me embrace my shortcomings and play to my strengths. And that’s really what mentors do. I was blessed.
Now, about 20 years since I graduated Doon, I have been doing a fair bit of teaching myself. As some of you may know, my second Writing Workshop, one of many that I conduct all the time, concluded last evening. And during my week, especially with this group of students (and I use that term loosely considering the most senior student in the group is a corporate retiree, an accomplished, widely published author himself), it hit me… I had become, or was at least trying to be, a combination of my most beloved teachers, now myself, as one, to these students. And the absolutely indescribable thrill and joy I have experienced listening to their feedback and how they’ve enjoyed and been enriched by our interaction, is my greatest reward. I must be doing something right, FINALLY! Before you think this is some egotistical, hedonistic self-massage, far from it. The reason behind my elation is not that a few people spoke highly of me. It is, that like my teachers did for me, I now seem to be in a position, to do, for a few – provide insight & inspiration. I’d been familiar with this cliche, though Teaching is a thankless job, its greatest gift is the gift of satisfaction. Like most cliches, this one, I am beginning to understand, is so, so true. And I am so lucky to enjoy it.
My transition from student, to somewhat lost adult, to now having ended my own existential crisis, is thanks in large part, due to this beautiful role reversal. And I hope I can continue teaching, until my last breath!