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Sunday
, September 8, 2002

Life Ties

Principalís hand in character-building
Taru Bahl

SEEMA was a committed educationist. As principal of a government high school she had shaped the lives of scores of children for a decade. Not interested in seeking fame, power or monetary benefits, her energies were channelised towards bettering the prospects of the community she served, in this case her students, their parents and the teachers. She instilled confidence in people and restored in them the belief that the gurukul system of education based on the guru-shishya parampara could still be followed. She received an offer from one of the countryís best schools which had taken a severe beating in terms of reputation and the quality of product which passed out from its portals because of a trail of egocentric principals. The temptation to join them was obvious. As a builder-creator she was getting restless. She had set systems in place, trained staff, redesigned the curriculum and brought the school up to a certain level. From here, a good administrator could take over and maintain the pace, leaving her to set sights elsewhere. The offer of taking over a school modelled on the lines of international schools offered enormous learning opportunities. She decided to move to a new city and take up the challenge.

 

She was staying on campus. Not having a child of her own enabled her to devote all her time to the project and being the workaholic she was, she worked 18 hours a day. The ethos and culture of this school was diametrically opposite to the one she had left behind. These children came from affluent powerful families. Their lifestyle was flamboyant and value system mixed up. She did a serious stock-taking and evolved a style of functioning best suited to addressing their specific needs. She enlisted the help of experts who could interact with students at different levels. She put her teachers through rigorous teacher training schedules so that they were sensitised to dealing with the confusions of growing adolescents. Radical changes were made and Seema found hidden reserves of energy enabling her to work round the clock tirelessly. Normally blessed with a mild temperament she realised she could also be assertive and forceful when it came to taking up issues with her board of trustees. Since she was neither corrupt nor had any hidden motives she could fight with conviction for what she believed was right.

She particularly remembered how her relationship with Vikrant evolved. He first came to her notice when she discovered he had insufficient attendance and hence could not take his class XII board exams. Investigations revealed he had used clout to over-ride rules and regulations to seek admission. He had a suspect track record and had been expelled from his earlier school for indiscipline. That was not all. He had not cleared his class X boards and was still given admission in class XI. As principal she felt she could not let him take the class XII board exams. Besides by succumbing to pressure she would be further emboldening the errant student who was neither embarrassed nor repentant. He felt money could buy everything. A stubborn principal was, at worst, a minor stumbling block which his connections in the school trust could easily take care of.

Seema recalled how this was easily her toughest battle. The trust initially tried dismissing the episode as something trivial. Surely, as head of the institution she would not deliberately jeopardise the future of one of her own students, simply because he was unable to procure a previous board exam mark sheet and had inadequate attendance. A dressing down would ensure he that he was more cautious in the future. There was no need to seal his fate by denying him entry into the examination hall. Seema stood her ground. To her the entire attitude of the boy and his family highlighted a deeper malaise. One which seemed to say they were bigger than the establishment and could set their own rules which no one could challenge. To do a wrong and then be so cocky about it, she felt would manifest itself in other ways. She would not be party to boosting this irresponsible, callous and negative aspect of her studentís persona who would in his adult years create greater discord in the society he was part of. When Seema did not relent, the board began pressurising her. A stage came when she knew that the issue had boomeranged into a full blown drama and tragedy would not be long in coming. Either she would be fired or the boy with all his muscle power and connections would have her killed.

Not for a moment in those turbulent two months did Seema buckle under the pressure. In her mind there was no scope for negotiation. Bribes, threats, intimidation and coercion did not soften her stance. She was adamant: if he could procure his class X pass certificate, he could sit for the class XII exams, failing which he would have to opt out of school. She would not create a wrong precedent and give him the feeling that he could get away with murder. He had erred and had to take responsibility for his actions. The family had to see where they had gone wrong. The jolt he would get by losing a year would help him learn valuable lessons and reform himself. Surprisingly, a stage came when the boy quietly decided to leave.

There were times when her mind drifted to him. How had his life shaped up? Had the incident shamed him to the extent that he became a rebel or had he tried turning over a new leaf? Her questions were answered when 7 years later he sought an appointment and came to meet her. He wanted to make a donation to his school and personally hand her a cheque. She could sense pride in the young manís voice. Her heart brimmed over when she saw a handsome young man stride confidently into her office. He had no rancour or bitterness towards his alma mater and the principal who had taken such a harsh decision against him. He wanted to give back something to the place he felt had changed his life for the better. This experience filled her with. When he told her that the donation came from money he had earned through perfectly legitimate means and not from the coffers of his fatherís wealth, she knew that in some way her role had been justified. All the tireless work and energy that she had invested in the creation of responsible citizens had borne fruit. The rejection, the realisation that money after all couldnít buy everything, had motivated the boy to make his own way in life without the crutches provided by his father. He had made a mark and returned to the school to make this offering. He had come full circle. By going from being irresponsible to being responsible, from being immature to being mature and from being directionless to being purposeful, he had shown what a good, honest principal could do. She had while doing her duty built his character in the truest sense of the word.

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