Teachers as torchbearers
A guru is like a beacon that shows us the right path. This Teacher’s Day, celebrities
the mentors and guides who helped shape their future, writes Vimla Patil
so many years ago,
singer Shaan and his sister Sagarika were a struggling pair that made
music videos in the Indo-western style for collegians. Later, while
Sagarika married and settled down, Shaan got the opportunity to sing
as a playback artiste. His destiny changed dramatically and he became
one of Bollywood’s top singers under the training of Ustad Ghulam
Mustafa Khan. He also became a youth icon when he hosted reality music
shows for prominent TV channels. Then followed marriage and children
and his life was complete. Today, with recent hit numbers in films
like Fanaa, Sanwariya, 3 Idiots and others, Shaan is
indisputably the top singer of Bollywood.
However, something he
never forgets to do is give credit to those who shaped him. "My
father, Manas Mukherjee, was one of the most gifted musicians of India
but he was not destined to achieve the success he deserved," he
once said tearfully in a TV programme, "He is the guiding light
of my life, he trained me with complete dedication and gave me the
strength to struggle through difficult times to achieve the success I
have today. I owe everything to him and, of course, to the ustads
and pandits of Hindustani music who have trained me over the
Shaan is not the only
celebrity to readily acknowledge his debt to his teachers and gurus. A
huge number of successful people in India take the opportunity on
Teacher’s Day to pay a tribute to their teachers and gurus because
in the Indian tradition, a teacher or guru occupies the place of ‘God’,
because he or she inculcates the discipline and passion to achieve
success in a student’s life.
Chanda Kochhar has been
nominated as one of the most powerful women in the world. Managing
Director and Chief Executive Officer of the ICICI Bank, she, too, says
that her success would not have been possible without the support of
her teachers, parents and family. At 49, she has reached the acme of
her career with guidance from her seniors in the bank and the
dedicated co-operation of her team, ever since she joined the bank in
"I am grateful to
all these people – my family, my staff and my teachers who have
given me guidance and support throughout my career to reach where I am
today. Next on our list of celebrities is the beautiful Swaroop
Sampat-Rawal, Miss India 1979 and wife of renowned actor Paresh Rawal.
Swaroop, who is looking forward, this year, to the publication of her
book on children with special educational needs. She earlier won
another kind of ‘crown’ for her success, for which she is grateful
to her teachers and family. She holds a doctorate from Worcester
University, UK, for her thesis in teaching children with a learning
"I come from a
family that has been involved in theatre for decades," she says,
"My father Bachoobhai Sampat was chairman of the famous Indian
National Theatre and my mother is a doctor. I was steeped in theatre
even as a college student and as I completed my Master’s in English,
I performed in many commercial plays in Gujarati, Hindi and English. I
also acted in 12 films before and after my marriage, the last being
Shaad Ali’s Saathiya (2002), in which I acted as Vivek Oberoi’s
mother! In my theatre days, I met Paresh Raval, who was equally
passionate about theatre and acting. Soon after, Paresh’s film
career took off successfully and we were married.
"I enjoyed my life
as a mother and wife, but at the same time, I wanted to do something
on my own and Paresh encouraged me completely," Swaroop
"I visited the
kiosk of Worcester University at an educational fair and applied for a
part-time course to work for a Ph. D in teaching children with
learning disabilities. I got a full scholarship and accommodation plus
the unique permission to attend the university for one month every
year till I completed the doctorate. Every year, during the children’s
school holidays, I religiously went to Worcester University, stayed in
their student quarters, ate canteen meals and studied for 18 hours
till I fell asleep with exhaustion. I read books on all subjects
concerning educational psychology, skills for teaching children with
learning difficulties, slow learners and dyslexic children. I worked
with Dr. Stephen Bigger and Dr. Philip Chamber, my gurus and guides. I
would give full credit for my success to my professor guides and to
the support of Paresh – who encourages me to call myself Swaroop
Sampat – and our two sons. They want me to return to the stage and
Shakun Kimatrai is a
prominent social worker who comes from an affluent business family. An
ardent contributor to the project to clean up and resurrect the holy
towns of Gokul and Vrindavan, she has made efforts to bring a new life
to this crowded pilgrimage centre with dexterity. She says, "We
are working to clean up and reinvent Kishor Van, the actual Raas Leela
venue of Lord Krishna in Vrindavan, which is rapidly turning into a
concrete jungle. We really need to work hard to make it green and
beautiful. We wish to restore all places of environmental-spiritual
interest in Braj and Vrindavan, beginning with the Kishore Van
revival. Once the Kishore Van project succeeds, the owners of the
other places will be interested to restore their temple groves. We are
asking the people of India to support us."
"I believe my work is inspired by my spiritual guru, Indira Devi,
and my Ishta Devta, Krishna. Teachers and gurus are necessary because
they help us to connect to the correct way to achieve success or
enlightenment. They know your strengths and weaknesses and the
qualities that resonate your personality. I am happy that my family,
my colleagues in my work and my guru supported me throughout my
journey and I am what I am because of them all."
Thus, whatever your
dream or career path, the guru or teacher always looms as a larger
than life figure over your success and efforts. It could be your
teacher in school or college, or guides in your workplace or, simply,
your parents, family and friends, who cheer you on to work harder, to
focus on your goals, and to finally succeed in whatever you wish to
do. They are all your teachers and supporters. They help you to look
in the mirror and admire the winner you see there in the reflection.
In a class of their own
Inspiration and Innovation have been the hallmark of these teachers...
|Stage for studies
Papri Sri Raman
Ours is a love marriage," she says, smiling proudly at him. One does not expect such a bold declaration at the very onset of our conversation, but there an unmistakable pride in her voice, as she is referring to an achievement rare in those days.
|Each One, Teach One
Ech One, Teach One — one of the most effective schemes to promote education today was popularised by a woman few remember, but who was a pioneer in the field of adult literacy in India.
Sanctuary of learning
Armed with colourful posters, picture cards and slides, Pune residents Sharmila Deo and Purnima Phadke have been
heading to Bhimashankar Wildlife Sanctuary each month for two years now.
Stage for studies
Papri Sri Raman
Ours is a love
marriage," she says, smiling proudly at him. One does not
expect such a bold declaration at the very onset of our
conversation, but there an unmistakable pride in her voice, as
she is referring to an achievement rare in those days. Meet
85-year-old Rajalakshmi Parthasarthy, or Mrs YGP, or simply YGP,
who was recently in the news for being honoured with the Padma
Shri for excellence in teaching.
Most people are
familiar with Mrs YGP's rise in the world of academics - she
started the well-known Padma Seshadri Bala Bhavan (PSBB) group
of schools in Chennai. But as one settles down to learn more
about her life's journey, one gets to see a rare side of her
personality — Mrs YGP as a woman with a passion for theatre.
Rajalakshmi Parthasarthy’s biggest innovation has been the introduction of
theatre as a teaching tool
She uses the
present tense while referring to her late husband, Y.G.
Parthasarathy (YGP), a government official, noted dramatist and
a stage actor, who founded the United Amateur Artistes (UAA) in
1952. The theatre company continues to stage plays under the
able guidance of Mrs YGP's son, Y.G. Mahendran, also a noted
actor and the brother-in-law of superstar Rajinikanth.
sister, Vaidehi, was my friend. She would write long letters to
her brothers from her husband's home, and once, when he enquired
about my well-being, I wrote to him directly. I was very
bold," she says.
It was in
Vaidehi's mother's house that Rajalakshmi met YGP, a budding
theatre actor, and their love blossomed. Before the two married,
Rajalaxmi completed her graduation in Mathematics as well as
post-graduation in journalism from Madras University. She went
on to work with The Hindu and was possibly among the first women
journalists in the country.
marriage, she quit her journalistic career, and in 1952, the
theatre-loving couple set up the legendary UAA.
In 1958, with
the help of the women of the Nungambakkam Ladies Recreation
Club, Rajalakshmi started a small school, Bala Bhavan, on the
terrace of her home. "In the day time, there was the
school... in the evenings, there were the rehearsals with
actors," she recalls.
The Bala Bhavan
also simultaneously grew from an institution that had begun
under a thatched roof, to the PSBB group of schools with many
branches and many famous names on its alumni — most of whom
have something special to say about their 'YGP' or Rajalakshmi
In fact her
biggest, but perhaps unrecognised, innovation in education has
been the introduction of theatre as a teaching tool. "We
must introduce creative drama from Class I," she says.
"One needs to act out dry
history, if one is teaching the Battle of Panipat... the
children need to become characters in that war... a soldier, a
commander... Even the Constitution Assembly lessons... how
interesting [they will be] if children acted the parts of the
debating leaders... Mrs YGP certainly knows how to make learning
fun and at the same time effective. Little wonder then that her
students , past and present, call her the ultimate guru. — WFS
Each One, Teach One
Ech One, Teach
One — one of the most effective schemes to promote education
today was popularised by a woman few remember, but who was a
pioneer in the field of adult literacy in India.
name might not ring a bell for many but her life and work are
truly remarkable. Mother of the well-known radio personality
Ameen Sayani, Kulsum was born in 1900. Her inspiration was none
other than Mahatma Gandhi. Her father, Dr Rajabally Patel, was
the personal physician to Gandhiji and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad.
The late Kulsum Sayani (centre) with her sons, radio
broadcaster Ameen Sayani (left) and Hamid Sayani
Photo: Courtesy the Sayanis
those trying times, Kulsum Sayani wrote, "A new Congress
hospital was founded to care for the wounded. My late husband,
Jan Mohamed Sayani, was the first physician to be put in charge
if it. "
interactions with Gandhiji and the importance attached to
education in her family made her realise the need to eradicate
illiteracy. In 1938, with a capital of Rs 100 (US$1=Rs 46.7),
she employed two teachers and made the rounds of Muslim
localities to get students. Considering the conservative
attitude towards female education even now, imagine the effort
it must have taken on Sayani's part to convince families about
the importance of educating girls at that time. There were times
people used to slam their doors on her face, exclaiming,
"Why should women learn to read?"
efforts proved that there was a tremendous need to work in the
field of education, which needed a more organised set-up. It was
in spreading the word on education that she is best remembered.
Sayani was very
pragmatic and initiated several schemes to spread literacy,
notably among them, 'Each one, teach one'. She used to visit
several schools and encourage young students to devote 15
minutes every day to teach one adult. Another literacy
initiative she undertook was reading out aloud. School students
were encouraged to gather friends and adults and each one had to
read out aloud.
is an inspiration to many. Married when she was only 18, she
managed her family and pursued her social interests with equal
elan. Her sons, Hamid and Ameen, both radio broadcasters,
created their own identity. Ameen Sayani attributes his
"basic grounding in clear and credible communications in
Hindustani" to his involvement in assisting his mother in
bringing out her publication Rahber.
the Padma Shri in 1960 and was also awarded the Nehru Literacy
Award in 1969.
Sayani, who died in 1987,
belonged to an era where people believed in giving their best to
the nation without expecting anything back. — WFS
Sanctuary of learning
colourful posters, picture cards and slides, Pune residents
Sharmila Deo and Purnima Phadke have been heading to
Bhimashankar Wildlife Sanctuary each month for two years now.
They have a mission on their mind — to instill in the local
children of Bhimashankar an appreciation and protective attitude
towards their verdant home.
an evergreen forest in the Sahyadri range, 120 kilometres from
Pune, Maharashtra. Declared a reserve forest in 1985, it boasts
of several varieties of trees, 236 species of birds and 66 of
mammals. But the region also faces multiple threats: The
unchecked tourist influx that has led to an increase in air
pollution. Even an 18th century Shiva temple that stands within
the forest has contributed to its ecological woes. Large-scale
pilgrim presence causes extensive littering. The plastic bags,
bottles and wrappers that are strewn for miles not only choke
the water bodies, but are also increasingly responsible for the
death of wild animals that ingest them. The sanctuary is
definitely in dire need of conservationist intervention.
Children plant saplings of
Students show off dainty paper bags as Sharmila Deo looks on proudly
prominent Pune-based environmental NGO, Kalpavriksh, decided to
conduct a sensitisation drive on these issues among the local
residents. A two-year environment education programme for school
children was a part of this effort.
officer Sharmila, 37, who had earlier done similar work in
Ladakh, was put in charge of this project that was sponsored by
the Concern India Foundation and Ruffords Small Grants
Foundation (UK). She roped in a German language teacher, Purnima,
64, as collaborator and voluntary educator. The two had met and
found shared interests when they did a one-year diploma on
environmental conservation in 2003.
after the organisational and financial aspects, while Purnima
designed a lot of the content, after deliberating with me and
the experts at Kalpavriksh. We conducted the actual workshop
together," Sharmila informs. Extensive research and several
exploratory trips to Bhimashankar later, the project got
jeans-clad Sharmila and the matronly Purnima soon became
familiar figures in the 'ashramshalas' of Tekavade and Terungan
villages, where their playful, hands-on half day sessions
provided relief from monotonous classroom studies and opened a
whole new world of discovery for the 150-200 students of Classes
VII and VIII. The ‘ashramshalas’ are government run
residential schools for tribal children.
beginning, the students were completely non-responsive, as they
were accustomed to passive learning. Breaking the ice was the
most difficult part of this job," recalls Sharmila.
had decided that teaching would be non-pedantic, context
specific, and rooted in the children's world of experience.
Cultural events were turned into teaching opportunities. The
human pyramids formed by the students during the Dahi-Handi
festival, for example, became a tool for explaining the concept
of the energy pyramid.
Soon a rapport
was established, and the children's enthusiasm soared. They
learnt about the food chain and the web of life through
role-playing of different birds, mammals, insects and aquatic
them many opportunities to display their creativity," says
Purnima. The children made collages out of various kinds of
leaves to produce a fascinating array of patterns and shapes -
green snakes, insects, peacocks, airplanes and Ganesha figures!
That year, an anti-plastic drive during the Mahashivratri
festival, which brings thousands of pilgrims to the temple, gave
an opportunity to train them in activism. Draping themselves in
assorted plastic waste and dubbing themselves as plastic
monsters, the children moved among the crowd, singing
anti-plastic songs and asking the pilgrims to eschew plastic.
The comprehensive, ingenious
programme that the two women ran is indeed a model of how
environmental science must be taught. Prakash Dudhe, the
principal of the Tekavade school, expresses appreciation for the
efforts of the two women. "The classroom walls melted as
children trampled through the jungles, and explored their own
environment with more scientific eyes." As they bid their
students goodbye after the last session of academic year 2010
– though Sharmila is still trying to source funds to run to
for another year - the children asked, "You will come back
again next year, won't you?" The hopeful query was a
gratifying indication that the environmental cause had found a
place in the children's hearts. Sharmila and Purnima needed no
other reward. — WFS