“Class, what am I holding in my hand?” Mrs. Dasgupta, holding out a piece of paper in her hand asked the question. She was teaching ‘moral science’ to her students of standard seven at one of the best convent schools in Bangalore. School administration had realized that students at the beginning of their adolescence should also learn about human values along with science and mathematics. Mrs. Dasgupta had a great reputation as a teacher of English literature but because of her long track record as a teacher who was extremely good at dealing with young minds and also capable of improvising she was requested by the principal to shoulder the additional responsibility of teaching the subject for which no text book was available. After receiving spontaneous feedback from students and parents the principal realized that he did the right thing by asking Mrs. Dasgupta to teach the subject.
“It is a hundred rupee note, madam” the entire class replied in one voice.
Mrs. Dasgupta kept the note on the floor and stamped on it couple of times. The paper money looked little dirty as well as crumpled from the dust and pressure of her shoes. She lifted the note from the floor and without making any effort to get rid of the dust or straightening it, asked the class again what she was holding in her hand.
“It is the same one hundred rupee note, madam” the class replied in one voice again.
“Does it have the same value as before” the teacher asked.
“Yes madam” the class replied in one voice.
“Will it remain a hundred rupee note after one year from today”, she asked.
“Yes madam” the class again replied in one voice.
With few strokes of her finger she stove off the dust from the note and after straightening it a bit, held it with her both hands and raised the note above her head, the way jersey numbers of players are displayed during player replacement in football games and said “Remember my children in your life you will be insulted, humiliated, abused but your value as a human being will not diminish even by a bit. Whether we are young or old, blamed or famed, ignored or honored we will remain the same” Mrs. Dasgupta started putting the note back in her purse after saying those words.
“Madam, can I ask you a question”, Mrs. Dasgupta looked at the boy at her left who had raised his hand.
“Yes Dhruba, what is your question” Mrs. Dasgupta asked.
“Madam, the value of people reduces when they get old”, said the boy.
“Dhruba, you said you had a question”, Mrs. Dasgupta said.
“Madam I did not know how to start so I said I had a question. But I know that old people do not have any value.”
“How can you say that Dhruba, old people have lots of importance and respect in our society, we always learn important lessons from their experiences. Imagine if we tried to learn every single lesson from our mistakes how miserable our lives would be. ” Mrs. Dasgupta tried to convince her favorite student.
“No madam, I know it is not true. I do not know if we try to learn from them or from their mistakes as you told but I know that they are ignored” Dhruba sounded adamant.
Mrs. Dasgupta was surprised to see a completely different side of her favorite student. She met the student’s parents once at a parent teacher meet. She knew that his parents had moved to Bangalore because of his father’s job in a multinational company. She realized that something was bothering her student’s mind and she felt it was her responsibility to bring it out rather than to suppress it. “Dhruba, I think you have formed an opinion in your mind without any reason to back it up”, she suggested to her student.
“If old people are so important then why my old grandmother stay all alone at a house in Calcutta” the entire class looked at him as soon as he had uttered those words.
“Whose mother your grandmother is” asked Mrs. Dasgupta after a brief pause.
“She is my father’s mother, madam” replied Dhruba.
“Is your grandfather still alive” asked Mrs. Dasgupta, again after a brief pause.
“He died two years before, madam. Since then she has been living all by herself. If old people are so important then why she has to live alone” Mrs. Dasgupta tried to understand by looking at her student’s face if it was anguish, frustration, sadness, anger, or a combination of all.
“May be your grandmother likes to live alone, she could be an independent type of a person. There are many people who like to live alone.” Mrs. Dasgupta tried to give some alternate explanation.
“My grandma loves me very much. We visit her once a year for two to three days. She tries to spend all the time with me when I am there. Then why would she prefer to live alone instead of staying with me?”
Mrs. Dasgupta realized that she had to tell the truth to her student even though it could be little early for him to know. “Sometimes in a family, the mother-in-law, in this case your grandmother and daughter-in-law, in this case your mother argue, which could destroy the peace in a family, especially arguing in front of young children should always be avoided. Probably that is the reason your grandmother does not live with you.”
“But my parents argue. After a brief argument everything returns to normal at our home. It is better if they argue rather than they stop talking.” said Dhruba.
Suddenly the bell rang. Mrs. Dasgupta told the class that she would continue the same topic in her next class.
Author: Mintu Ghoshal
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