In the aftermath of a Teachers’ Day

Rajeev Kumar Nagotra
The first question that arises in my mind is about the need for a Teachers’ Day when we already have the tradition of honouring our teachers on the Guru Purnima. The ancient Rishi Veda Vyasa ordained the first purnima (full-moon day) of the ashaadh month (end of July) to be celebrated as the Guru Purnima, an occasion for the students or disciples to pay respect to their gurus. The occasion as well as the act could not be anything but personal, deep, pure, sincere and simple – offering flowers at the feet of the guru followed by a prostration and, though not compulsory, making an offering according to the student’s capability. The day could also be used for the graduation of the prepared ones who would receive their final sermon and leave for their next stage of life. From a student graduating on that day, the guru had a right to ask for an offering of his choice. For example, Pandavas’ guru Dron asked them to defeat King Drupad and capture his kingdom for him. Lord Rama was asked to kill the demons like Tadaka and Subahu and make an offering of the “peace of mind” to his guru Vishwamitra. Then there is a story of a disciple named Suteekshan in the ashram of Rishi Agastya. Suteekshan was asked to present Sita Ram ji in person before his guru and he is known to have done it.
The strength of this unostentatious act of worship and offerings was the fact that it was not blemished by arrogance or pride of having fulfilled the guru’s wish. Instead it was purely a heartfelt expression of gratitude and thanksgiving.
Fast forward to the present times.
The day to commemorate the services of a teacher is no more the Guru Purnima, but the birthday of the second President of India, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan. This leads us to either or both of the following two inferences : (a) the modern age teacher is not qualified to be called a guru and hence cannot be honoured on the day reserved for the guru, and, (b) Dr. S. Radhakrishnan was a much greater a scholar than Veda Vyasa himself! Let us examine these two inferences one by one. Firstly, a guru is the one who not just initiates a child into formal education, but also trains him in myriad other skills and trades that he believes commensurate with the child’s potential and temperament. He takes in a raw and shapeless student and grooms him into an enlightened, sophisticated and useful unit of a society. He trains the disciple in morality and spirituality and becomes his guide to the ultimate goal of moksha, i.e., salvation. The role of the modern day teacher, on the other hand, is limited to teaching textbooks and helping the students solve the problems in a lab or at the back of a book. Like his role, his stature in the eyes of the students as well as the society is also considerably diminished. The innumerable tuition centers in every city of our country are the index of the teacher’s failure in even imparting the formal education. The absence for morality and spirituality in our society can then easily be explained and understood. Clearly, by replacing a guru with a teacher and by imposing a Teachers’ Day to boot, our governments have belittled the significance and impact of the guru-shishya tradition and the Guru Purnima.
Secondly, Veda Vyasa is the most revered Indian sage, even considered an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. He wrote the Bramha sutras, the 18 Puranas, the epic Mahabharata and the Srimad Bhagwatam. He is even believed to have edited the Vedas. He was the guru of Dattatreya, considered the “guru of the gurus”. He established the system of teaching through discourses. Born of the greatest authority on astrology, Rishi Parashar, he fixed the day for Guru Purnima. And, the Government of our newly independent nation promoted a shallower version of this ancient tradition started by him with a different date, a hollow English name and a hopelessly constricted vision. This is shameful and smacks of their colonial tendencies. This is not to suggest that Dr. Radhakrishnan was not a great teacher or an accomplished scholar. He must have been one, but to push his image ahead of the almost divine image of Veda Vyasa shows the sheer ignorance of those at the helm of affairs. The entire idea becomes even more distasteful when one considers that his birthday was chosen as the Teachers’ Day while he was still alive and in office. Even the slightest of humility and austerity should have persuaded the first vice-President to nip the idea in the bud. Dr. Radhakrishnan’s greatest contribution has a contemporary interpretation and translation of the Vedantic philosophy for the English speaking audience of the west. Even by that logic, his birthday should be celebrated as the Teachers’ Day in the western countries and not in India where the people needed little of his services in this matter and were more comfortable with the original Sanskrit or Hindi texts. To project him as a role model for our teachers is to hold the standard bar too low in a country that is striving to become the world guru (and not the world teacher, by the way).
Societies degenerate in absence of true role models. And, it is all too visible to ignore. Most of the leading schools in our city actually observed a holiday on the Teachers’ Day! The commemoration of the teachers is briefly and hastily carried out a day before on September 4 itself. In this way, the students have to skip almost two days of academic work at the school. In some schools teachers go around the classes “asking” for the gift. One picture of a classroom on a student’s instagram page showed “Happy Tea Chor Day” written on the black board. Often a separate recreational event is organized exclusively for the teachers in hotels, malls or in movie theatres. Food is served and fashions parades held – at times in hotels, other times in front of the students at the schools. Teachers even invest seriously on make-ups and hairdos for this special day. Vulgarity is on full display, by both the genders, under the garb of freedom to dress up to one’s choice. Videos, totally unbecoming of teachers, are made and shared generously on the social media. Some teachers even use this day as an official date sanctioned and sponsored fully by the school management. Is this really what a Teachers’ Day should be like? Is this what a teacher should be like? What about the simplicity, the morality, the austerity, the character and the strength that a teacher is supposed to epitomize? What is going on in our schools? We must ponder over these questions before it is too late. We must distance ourselves from all practices that malign the divine nature of a teacher’s role.