Saturday, August 20, 2016

Unlearning The Dronacharya Lesson

The Mahabharata continues to inspire multitudes that includes me. While I continue to read about Mahabharata from various analytical sources, the text itself is powerful enough to evoke a reaction out of a mere child. Which is what happened to me when I watched B R Chopra's adaptation of the classic as a child. Of course, while I was far from understanding Bhishma's dilemma or Vidur's existentialist stance I was intrigued by the part that concerned me, the teachers of Mahabharata.

Of course, times have changed now and the epic does not reflect our lives in this age of globalisation as much as it did even a decade ago. But what seems to be "back in the days" in this speed of thought age, I had many a lessons to learn from the Mahabharata. You might think it is the episode that emphasizes the value of focus, where Arjuna says he can't see anything but the eye of his prey. While that is an interesting, the event that put me almost in a state of shock, it is the Ekalavya story.

If for some reason this story has not depressed you in the past, here it is. Dronacharya was the teacher of the young princes of the Kuru and Pandav kings.

At a very early stage, Dronacharya had developed a liking for the Pandav prince, Arjuna. His plan was to hone his skills in archery to the best ever. While he was training his students, there is one incident in particular that emphasizes how hellbent he was about his ambition. While they lived in the forest, there lessons were disturbed by the barking of a dog. Dronacharya wanted Arjuna to stop its barking by shooting a bunch of arrows into the dog's mouth without hurting it. While Arjuna was still stretching his bow, the dog's barking was stopped when a bunch of arrows were shot into its mouth. It was very apparent that it was a much better maneuver than Arjuna could have managed. Dronacharya was so stunned that he immediately set out in search of the person who had made it. Following the direction from where the arrows had come they found only a replica of Dronacharya. While the teacher and students stood wondering who had made the statue, a boy who looked from the tribal community Nishad entered the place.

(Nishad are tribes outside the Chaturvarna of Hindu society,
as such they had no position in the traditional society.)

The boy called himself Eklavya and said that he had trained himself accepting Dronacharya as his teacher. Dronacharya who must have logically embraced him into his school, wanted nothing to do with this outcaste. But he also had the foresight that leaving such a warrior with his skills could be dangerous to Arjuna's position as the world's best warrior. So he demanded that if Eklavya really thought of him as a teacher he should be giving him a gurudakshina, a teacher's fee. Eklavya happy at this thought immediately said he would give him anything. That is when Dronacharya demanded that Eklavya give him the right thumb from his hands. While his own students watched this injustice, Eklavya drew out a sword and without a second thought, cut off his thumb and offered it Dronacharya's feet.

This is one single episode that stood out for me, as I found it reflected in a pedagogical schooling system where favoritism was common place and accepted. I have grown up since then and accepted that society comes with some setbacks. Also the society itself has changed into a better one, where this partiality whether in school or society is frowned upon. There are more and more self taught people who never have any Dronacharyas to let them down or discourage.

I am in fact happy that a child's dignity is not entirely placed on their academic success but on their individual strength. I am happy that globalisation has ensured that we each can find a place under the sun where our skills are honed and celebrated without any predilection. I know, this is a very gradual process but at least the wheels have been set in motion. I hope that in future this Dronacharya episode sounds like a rudimentary behaviour with no emotional catharsis for children of this generation.

“I am blogging about my dreams and the people who helped make them true for the #AdviceThatMattered activity at BlogAdda in association with Stoodnt.”

Fun is A Weapon

At the age when you start realising that being a drawing teacher is not much of an option for a career (especially because your drawing is not good to begin with,) you are bombarded with the "real talk" about how you should have a goal and take studies seriously.

Don't get me wrong I had always realised that living in a country where female education is not a priority, having parents from middle class providing me with the best of education, was a privilege. Yet I could not ignore the fact that scoring in all of academics was not my strength. 

What started of as a mere dilemma spiralled into a full fledged identity crisis where I felt like I was the only one who loved books but not the kinds that could be of value in exams. I would much rather be lost in the Middle Earth or be lost in an English garden during a summer (without visiting England). I would be lost in the word plays and characters of classic literature. I mean I was a nerd I read extensively but not Science books. Who cares about a nerd whose learning doesn't reflect on the mark sheet? Who cares that you understood Hamlet's dilemma in the 7th grade when you couldn't balance the chemical equations?

You may ask hadn't I heard about the great Indian method of rote learning? I had, and it was encouraged too. But simply overfilling my brain with information that made no sense was an activity that repulsed me so much. Also it was information that was beyong practical application. How did it matter that the Prairie grass was different from the Savannah? Or what delta or basin even was? Nor were the people who taught us making it any easy for us. It would have been so kind of those people if they had revealed us the secret that this tedious matrix they called "Multiplication Tables" was simply repetitive addition.

This conflict in interests ultimately led to what parents in that generation did, nagging. I mean I was about to enter the dreaded SSC exams, my parents had a reason to worry. When things had reached a boiling point I was saved by a teacher, my aunt. I have always loved the people that are aunts and uncles, they are a combination of parents and friends blended to perfection.

I still don't know what I would have done if I was not rescued at that point. The advice that gave my life a spin was this, "Have fun". That is a mantra that sounds simple but it is not simplistic. What I had done all my life was study like it was a burden, focusing on pushing it down my throat rather than savouring it.

In fact, that was the first time I actually understood, the first time I had an overview at my studies, the first time that there WAS a bigger picture, and as tough as it all looked, it was possible to learn something. And I learned only as much as interested me.

My aunt also calmed my parents' fear because by then I had figured out I wanted to choose the Arts stream and my overall grades wouldn't affect my chances in the real world.

With this "Fun Weapon" at my disposal I consumed knowledge in bits and at leisure. In fact, even if I didn't break records at the Board exams, those two years were the best overall scores I had in my life. What I lacked in Math I balanced by scoring in Languages and Social Studies. And passing the tenth grade made me free to pursue what I could do well, getting lost in the plots of the novels, analysing the characters' psyches and in the general play of words.

In fact, I applied my aunt's "Have fun" mantra to many aspects of my life and find that there is a happy twist to every Existentialist situation out there!

“I am blogging about my dreams and the people who helped make them true for the #AdviceThatMattered activity at BlogAdda in association with Stoodnt.”