“through the act of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us. . ."

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Gandhi Jayanthi

In the evening, I am back home from office; Parvati from College, K from school. The evening snacks session is a regular feature at ours; Tommy and Sancho look forward to that more than the three of us. That’s when the large steel vessel containing the goodies is brought down on the dining table and opened ceremoniously with a clang and bang – biscuits, cakes, groundnuts, Son Pappadi, Halwa – the list varies, but the dogs salivate in anticipation and there is a lot tail-wagging and excited growls. It is also the time when we tell each other about the day we had.

Gandhi Jayanthi is a public holiday. In the schools and colleges and some offices across the state, the day after Gandhi Jayanthi is also the day of cleaning and tidying up. In P's college too, teachers and students enjoy this break from studies. She was telling us about her day and how unforgettable it was.

P was working with a couple of girls; freshers in the undergraduate course in Botany. As the Head of the department, P makes sure that she knows the background of each and every student in her classes. She asked Archana about her family. “What's your father, Archana?” Archana looked up and said solemnly - “He is no more, teacher.” “Oh, I am sorry to hear that, what happened?” Archana was silent for a while. Then she said slowly - “He committed suicide, teacher. He just couldn't pay up his debts.”

Even after nearly 28 years of teaching and involvement with students, P is yet to harden up. “Then who else is in your family? Who takes care of you?” “My brother drives a pick-up auto. Mother does part-time help in some houses. Grandma is ill and bed-ridden”. P notices Archana's thin, anaemic body; faded and old-fashioned are her clothes. P had already given new notebooks to Archana and other students from financially poor background by raising a fund. P says gently to her - “Archana, would you mind if I offer you something? A friend of mine gave me some nice dresses she doesn't wear anymore. You may have to size them down a little bit, but they would suit you. Would you like to have them?”

Trivandrum is a city. Maybe not as big as the metros or many other state capitals, but still big. We too have our young, hep crowd, what with the Technopark Software people and professional colleges etc. Pretty young girls drive their Marutis and Hyundais nonchalantly through our crowded streets.

Archana gives a grateful, shy smile. “Oh, teacher, that’s nice. But I have enough; I am happy with it.” She pauses. “Teacher, can I ask you something? Jayashree-” Archana points to the other girl who was picking up garbage a little away - “Jayashree's situation is much worse. She is an orphan and has only old grandparents. She is actually staying in a hostel for poor students. Other than whatever concessions she gets, she manages by taking tuition. Not much, but a little something, you know.” P and Archana are silent for a while, watching Jayashree. “I sometimes share my dresses with her. Do you think you can give a few to her? She is fair and pretty. She would look nice in good clothes”.

Parvati has a reputation for a tough, no-nonsense teacher. She is also a much loved teacher, that I know. She has that fierce commitment to her work, to her students. Many are the instances when she has fought to protect the students in her college, where rioting and clashes are quite common. I have seen the sparkle in the eyes of her students, the way they run up to her, the way they crowd around her and babble. I am proud of her. I am privileged to say I am Parvati Teacher's husband.

I pat P. You are a good girl, I tell her. K looks at us and grins happily. We silently munch our cake.

I am nobody to talk in length about Mahatma Gandhi. But, like I told Sujata, the only reason I would call myself an Indian is that Gandhiji too was one. And then – there are many others like Archana too. Sometimes one cannot help feeling good about life.

************** Balachandran, Trivandrum 05.10.2009.


  1. a very good post...
    a chance for each and everyone of us to count the blessings we have got... and to kick ourselves for all the selfishness we have shown in life!!!

  2. Its good to know that there are people like Archana, for us its easy to share, as we are not worried about where our next meal is coming from, but for the ones like Archana to share and give what even she has very less of, is a real tribute to the Mahatma..

  3. I think she deserves to be called a ‘Guru’ in all its sense, Parvati Teacher. And the only word I can think of Archana’s gesture is ‘noble.’

  4. I'll tell u a secret, Bala. After the RG incident some people around me were telling me to pack my bags in anticipation of an invite from delhi to join national politics. I might have become a bit carried away by the prospect, I think. But reading you today, brought me back to square ground. Thank you

  5. wish i had read this quarter of century back-i'd 've been a more complete teacher.
    too late in the day our tribe realise we have a role on the other side of the desk too.
    am a huge fan of gandhi - but am unashamed to admit i am an armchair gandhian, reading, writing and blogging about him!

  6. As always, you bring life to the hearts of your readers. Be it sadness or happiness, we can walk in your thoughts and your writes...


  7. Very interesting post Balaji. I feel we often forget to acknowledge or recognize people like Archana who are the real heroes in their own small ways and for that matter your wife as well.

    A nice feeling to read this.


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