Wednesday, 22 February 2017

No One's a Polymath

In 2005, I was teaching Urdu at a college in Unnao, UP. I've always been very meticulous not just about my Urdu, but all the languages I know. So I kept finding fault with the way young students wrote and spoke Urdu. All my students were Muslims. One day, my exasperation hit the nadir. I told them, " I'm a non-Muslim, yet I know 'your' language much better than you. And you all belong to an Urdu-speaking community, yet your written and spoken Urdu is so miserable." 

The whole class was silent. A girl stood up and very politely said, " I'm sorry, language doesn't belong to any community. It belongs to those who endeavour to learn it. There's no 'humari' (our) or 'aap ki' (your) in the sphere of a language. Were Raghupati Sahay 'Firaq' Gorakhpuri and Dhanpat Rai 'Premchand' Muslims? " Her words hit me hard. I'm grateful to her for broadening my vision and helping me come out of the narrow lanes and bylanes of 'your' and 'mine'. She also proved that even the teachers could learn from their students. But how many teachers are willing and graceful enough to learn from their students? Teachers behave and labour under the impression that what they've learnt's irreproachable. They don't want to be corrected by their students. Such teachers command no respect from their pupils. 

I remember, I'd an English teacher. One day while teaching, she used a phrase 'unkept hair'. I met her after the class and told her that to the best of my knowledge, the phrase was 'unkempt hair.' She wasn't very sure but assured me that she'd refer to a standard dictionary. Next day, she thanked me in front of the whole class for 'correcting' her and increasing her word-power. She further said that she never knew that the right expression was 'unkempt hair,' not 'unkept hair'. This is gracefulness and a noble spirit to learn something new every moment from everyone, irrespective of the other person's age and status. I've not yet forgotten that lady teacher and whenever I think of her, I remember her humility.

 But very few are like her. It pains me no end when I read that a very high-profile minister's daughter, who teaches at a reputed college in Delhi, failed a student because he dared to argue with her on a point that was related to the subject she was the 'professor' of. The student was right and he had the relevant references to prove her wrong. She took it personally and felt slighted in front of the students. She taught him a lesson by failing him!!! This is not the way to teach. Teachers should never be vindictive and revengeful. No one is omniscient or a polymath. We all keep learning all the time.

There's a very apposite maxim in Persian, Be aamoz ta-zindai (there's no end to learning). Our approach should be very open and generous. One mustn't feel insulted when one's taught something new. The process of learning is never ending and knowledge comes to those who're willing to receive it from all quarters.    
                                                 -----Sumit Paul

 
 
                        
 
 


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