That concord of beautiful thought, that unstinted verbal adulation, that unrestricted and unreflecting deed that is triggered within all of us at the mere mention of a teacher has a common denominator. Not love. Not joy. Not adulation. Not gratefulness.
It is a funny word, that. A tricksy thingy that is liable to whack you between the shoulder blades if you don’t watch how you deal with it. Yet, a very robust word I surmise for it has withstood use, misuse and abuse. Is it very similar to teachers in that respect. Regardless of how it is viewed or how it is used, it has a great capacity to absorb the many definitions proposed for it by the empiricist, the individualist, the narcissist, the humanist, this rock star, that politician, the other actor.
Of all of these, the one I like most, and the one that fits teachers best is not a definition per se, but rather an activator, a key if you may to unlocking the intricacies of that word: “We respect someone not because of what we see in them but because of what they make us see in ourselves”. Truly.
That they have done for us all. For all eternity, the likes of them shall do for the likes of us. This is why we, at least in Asia, deify them. This is why we go looking for those feet to fall at. As great friends, they give what is difficult to give; they do what is difficult to do; they endure what is difficult to endure; they reveal their secrets; they keep one’s secrets; they do not abandon us in misfortune; they despise us not for our loss.
Let me set aside for a moment the death play of so-called teachers and so- called students whose primary goal in life seems to be to shoot each other. In these times, through no real fault of either, “education” places these non-teachers and non-students in situations of contention. I will rather, in the face of that next person who says unto me “I am your teacher, bow thee down”… bow down. Regarding not that he is terminally ill with a deadly disease all too common in our time. Kneel, not because she is a murderous necromancer who takes pleasure in killing and copulating with the dead. Kneel even though he is dead and can only teach others how to die. “Kneel” I shall remind myself as I do so, but not for that animal in human frame. Rather, kneel before the symbol of what he should represent. Kneel at the feet of the woman she should have been. Kneel before this abomination in supplication to all those teachers who have toiled for me, fed me, comforted me, held me, healed me, died in me and knelt before me to weep tears of blood and sacrifice themselves at the altar of the living dead…just so that I may…see.
And then… they die. And you shock at the thought that indeed it is true. And that which was so good has predeceased this very ordinary you. And you milestone your demise across each tombstone of their continued existence. And insist that that which blew so true must wind as best it can through the doubtful instrument that is you.
And you set aside their daily IT fare and make your students eat catastrophe theory for he spooned you multiple cusps as a teen. And you loop the andante variations of K331 incessantly in your mind for she made you see Vienna as a child. And you speak about Reimann and his hypothesis instead of prepping your student for the O/L for he taught you to look beyond infinites for answers to finites instead of prepping you for your O/L. And you sing of the streets of London on the banks of the Ohio for he showed you that geographies are relative.
And… what then?
Well, you meditate deep into the jungle night on the living hell that is the fate of every teacher… seeking, unseeking, seeking… not for the next doer among her clutch of pupils eagerly feeding their egos and the desire to acquire her skills but rather for the next teacher who… unfound, found, unfound… unkempting, hooliganing, hooting with laughter, bangs out the melody of life between the side of a dumpster and the lid of a garbage can with his left hand while her right traces the Vitruvian in rubbish.
This is for all my teachers:
I was born in storm of roses and thorn
into murk made of mixture of sorrow and song
and felled to a ground to feed from a soil
full of serpent in turmoil and tiger in toil
But her dark eyes sliced through the fear to the fall
past a mind milking madness to a heart held in thrall
and cheating my destiny of sequential living
she fled with my soul when life wasn't looking
to stop me....
for now and forever,
into dreams made of rhythm of moonlight and heather...
to mesh me in breeze tossed in scent soaked in starshine
misted with gossamer and dusted with firefly...
to feed me on tunes made of tremble and sigh,
as earth whispered her love to the sea and the sky...
For the late Upali Munasinghe who made me see as Euclid saw; for the late “Vassa” Vaseeharan who showed me that all catastrophes were not terminal; for the late Mrs.Niles who felt the music with me upon the keys of a piano; for the late Brigadier Eustace Fonseka for showing me how to sing a guitar; for the late Kumudu Lal Pinto who taught me how to teach; for the late Eileen Prince for proving the violin; for the late E.C. Gunesekara who inquired what jungle I hailed from; for Malcolm Eustace for the irrationality of numbers and the revelation that most human beings cannot be expressed in the p/q form either; for Mrs. Dharmasiri for the possibilities of mischief in the use of language; for Lakshmi Jeganathan for the drama in the word; for Rohan Thiyambarawatte who made me see that soil is a science and badminton is not; for Arjuna Parakrama who threw the rule book back at me and showed me its fundamental irrelevance for a team captain; for Richard Simon for showing me that when confronted with guitar sludge one note is sufficient to make one’s point.