In his eternal quest for truth, bliss and for inner peace, man set on foot to many a pilgrimage that stretched from the tranquil mountain peaks to placid river banks, from silent sylvan forests to the barren hill tops and then on to the serene expanse of the choicest ocean shores. And in those pristine spots where mother earth spreads a majestic panorama of beauty and calmness, where nature remain untouched by the exploits of human adventures, many a wise men sat and contemplated on the deeper mysteries of life and gave expressions to profound philosophical thoughts. On to these glorious lineage belonged a Adi Sankara and a Gutama Buddha, a Vyasa and a Valmiki and umpteen number of saints and sages who, from time to time, nourished and nurtured the eternal springs of spiritual wisdom for humanity to draw joy and sustenance from. In these venerated places came up temples and monasteries, ashrams and viharas that beckoned seekers of truth far and wide and enveloped them with an aura of divine benedictions. Along with being powerful searchlights for spiritual knowledge, many of them soon developed as centres of educational excellence where finer subjects of human interest, ranging from empirical sciences to abstract arts, were studied and taught and the contribution of these portals of learning towards the evolution of human mind has remained unsurpassed.
Of these extolled locations, Kasi and Rameswaram stand out as twin brothers and a visit to one of them remains incomplete without a visit to the other. While Kasi, or Banaras as it is otherwise called, is situated on the banks of the Ganges river flowing rapidly with the mingled waters of the Yamuna and the mystical Saraswati, Rameswaram stands quietly as an eternal witness to the turbulent waves of the Bay of Bengal. When a dip in the Ganges at Banaras is considered to wash off the accumulated sins of many births, a plunge in the sea waters at Rameswaram is said to have the most purifying effect to the soul. And when an unending stream of elevated souls find fulfilment in the ablution of Kasi Vishwanath, it is the Lord himself, as Rama, who paid obeisance to the deity at Rameswaram. But both personify the universal formless aspect of divinity symbolised by Shiva in the Linga form and both assure a sincere seeker, liberation from the illusionary world of bondages. They attract devotees in their millions and figure prominently in the list of our ancient and sacred cities.
And it is in that wonderful city of Banaras that I met Rohit Kumar, a teenaged, thin framed but a very jovial boy who works as a sales person in a shop that sells the famed silk sarees of Banaras. Rohit Kumar, when he is not unfolding and folding sarees, also doubles as a city guide for the visitors to the shop and he gladly lent his services of taking me along with my family around Kasi. “This is Hanuman Temple” and “Here Kedar ghat” Rohit would insist on giving his city counsel in ragtag English and we enjoyed every bit of his conversation. “Morning here no food, evening food” Rohit advises me on the availability of street foods in Banaras only in the evenings. “The price of silk Rs.800 last year, same Rs.1600 this year” laments Rohit on the doubling of the silk prices in just one year affecting the saree business in the city.
As I got curious of Rohit’s obsession to speak in English even to a person who understands and responds in the native tongue and asked him the reason for this passion, I was narrated a most heinous story of how the aspiration of a budding school kid could be mercilessly plucked, crushed and destroyed by the insensitiveness of a school teacher. Rohit would go to school with his English Grammar work complete but his teacher would thrash him for doing them all wrong. With illiterates as his parents, Rohit had no way to check his answers at home but had the fire to learn well and the willingness to put in effort. But the teacher, instead of correcting and teaching him right, would continue to humiliate the young boy in front of the whole class with whipping canes and abusive words. With this regular ill treatment, Rohit’s will to continue in the school reached a breaking point and one day he decided to leave the school, for good. “One day hitting, two day hitting, three day hitting and…” continued Rohit in a voice filled with deep anguish”and I decided no more school”. Rohit ended up as an unskilled helper in a saree shop, earning Rs.50/- a day with no scope for any further education and a promising future in sight. But he still carries a fire in the belly to learn and to grow.
But in the other city of Rameswaram, there was another teacher and another boy, and this boy had a totally different story to tell. The teacher, Mr. Siva Subramania Iyer, would lovingly explain to the children the concepts of science and also give practical demonstrations and make them understand those concepts. One day Mr. Siva Subramania Iyer explained to his class children the science behind the bird’s flight. He drew pictures of birds flying on the board, explained how birds created lift and thus could fly and why birds flew in formations and other intricate details of flight. Many of the students did not understand but Siva Subramania Iyer is the one who would ensure that his children learn and learn well. He took them to the sea shores of Rameswaram, made them observe the birds in motion, make note of their formations, the way they flap their wings to fly and how they bend their bodies to change direction. This demonstration kindled a fire in one of the boys to learn more about flights as his life mission. The boy studied hard and well, got into a prestigious engineering college and took up Aeronautical Engineering. He later went on to head the country’s space mission, won many laurels, got the highest civilian award of the land, the Bharat Ratna, and ultimately became the president of the country. That boy was APJ Abdul Kalam.
Oh what a contrast! One teacher made a gem of a person out of an inquisitive boy and another extinguished the fire to learn in a curious child through abusive behaviour.
As the historical city of Banaras silently gazes the incessant flow of the Ganges below, it still awaits for its Siva Subramania iyer to light the lamp of hope in its children.
Entry filed under: To reflect.