The fifth of September is celebrated as Teacher’s Day in India. When I was in school, students from the ninth standard were in charge of organizing the annual fest, which followed a standard template. A month or so before the event, the students would go from class to class, collecting donations from everyone. Using the money collected, a stage would be arranged. Every class would present something – a song, maybe a dance or two. There would be a speech by someone from the head class. Some years we would hear awkwardly-worded flowery prose, delivered with frustrating pauses by someone ill at ease in front of the crowd. Other times, the speeches were deliberate, precise and goose-pimply, kind without being overly-fawning, and the applause that followed would be heart-felt. Then there would be a fancy dress contest, where a parade of policemen, beggars, disco dancers, disco-dancing beggars(I kid you not) boys-dressed-as-girls and girls-dressed-as-boys. I tried my hand once at that, and dressed as a tramp, which meant eagerly ripping apart a shirt that I did not like, smearing grease all over my face and hands, and trying to woo the school stray dog to follow me up the stairs of the stage. Despite the lure of a packet of biscuits, the mutt refused to oblige, and I did not manage to cross the stage – the wave of faces looking up at me proved too much for me. I took two steps forward, a halting third and then ran back.
(The day did not get better. I misplaced my good shirt. Turned out later that some wise guy had stowed it at the back of the class almirah, and had left school early. As a result, I had to go back home in the torn tramp shirt, one size too small for me, and to top it all, the bus conductor was rude to me.)
But the fancy dress contest was the final hurdle before the climax of the Teacher’s Day celebrations – the food. As soon as prizes were distributed, and the polite clapping had subsided, the teachers would crowd inside the ‘nursery room’ – which was not a horticultural entity, as the name might suggest. It referred to a biggish classroom in the center of the school, meant for kindergarteners in the morning, and which doubled as a multi-purpose hall in the afternoons, everything from extra classes to antakshari competitions to mini-exhibitions. On Teacher’s Day, the nursery hall would be decked up with flowers and paper streamers, and the caterers would prop open their steaming pots. And we students would politely watch the teachers eat. Some of us would get out and celebrate our own way, in other classrooms – jumping up and down benches and desks, whooping and shouting and dancing.
I like the concept of Teacher’s Day. I like the fact that students go the extra mile to appreciate the authority figures at a crucial stage of their lives. The ones that inspire, prod, poke and belabor the willing and the unwilling to face real life from within a flawed education system. Good or bad, capable or not, they deserve respect every single day of our lives. They make us, in more ways than one.
What I do not like is the reason why we celebrate Teacher’s Day in India. The birthday of an ex-president. Why his birthday? I have no idea. The same way Children’s Day is really about the birthday of an ex-Prime Minister who “liked children a lot”. I am not sure why this bothers me so much, probably because it reeks of sycophancy. Hmm.