A little background first.
My mother-in-law has been teaching for the past seventy-five years, give or take a few (and anyway, who’s counting at this stage of the game?).
She says it’s her hobby, just a little pastime to keep her alert and to give her a purpose in life. Those of us who know her know it’s much more than that. As in, it’s her passion. As in, she cannot imagine her life without it.
So this 95 year old woman has a schedule so strict it takes an Act of God to change it – even by five minutes. Her students march in like clockwork: 12:30 is Vijay’s slot and he stays for an hour. Mummy takes a break for lunch and a short rest, then at 3, the parade begins. Gaurav, Preeti, Piyush, Neha, Abhishek . . . she teaches them about punctuality by her own strict adherence to a timetable, about discipline by always coming prepared and expecting the same of them.
Each one of them has been snatched from whatever spot they had occupied pre-Mummy and forcibly dragged higher. There is no student she can’t improve. Some are positively meteoric in her hands – Vijay, for instance whose grades we see here, regularly stands first in his class. Though she was not at all happy with the drop in his science and maths marks (the leap in Hindi and the modest improvement in GK and MS went unremarked – no need to praise what he is doing well in! That goes without saying – literally.)
For parents with dreams for their children’s success, Mummy is the teacher of their dreams as well. No one knows their children’s potential as well as she does. No one knows their syllabus, their homework or their exam schedule quite the way she does.
She keeps track. When they leave after a lesson, she doesn’t stop thinking about them. She goes on mulling and planning – what is the next thing they need to understand? How to get them to learn the concept of latitude and longitude? Of division? Of cloud formation? Of the Freedom Struggle?
Where does she get the energy? She is 95, for heaven’s sake. An age when most people are finished, living only for themselves and absorbed in the tricks their own bodies are playing on them. Not Mummy. To hear her tell it, she gets her energy and her strength from her students. They are her inspiration, her source, her reason to go on. They keep her alive, connected and determined.
We named Karuna Vihar after her. And so for her 95th birthday, I invited the old guard – those members of the Foundation whom she had known for years to come and help us celebrate.
Everyone came – so proud and happy to be asked, to be with her . . .
They brought her flowers and cards and their own dreams, their own lives. They came to sit at her feet and absorb her wisdom and unceasing belief – in education, in learning, in the joy of doing right and doing well and in teaching children with faith and devotion.
They came to learn and to celebrate and to give thanks.
95 years of dedication and integrity and devotion.
How much we have to learn from her!
And, in the process – what fun there is to be had!
Oh! One last thing.
My sister-in-law Nutan wanted to be sure her gift to Mummy arrived, un-pilfered, undisturbed. Here’s the label she put on the package, practically daring any postal worker to tamper with it:
No one did. The package arrived intact and Mummy, as usual, was mystified by it. Why would anyone want to go to so much trouble for her?
People like Mummy are National Treasures. People like her hold the nation together, they keep us from falling asleep, they call us to account and remind us why we are here.
Teach the children! she insists. Make sure they can read and write and do their sums. They will handle the rest.
That faith, that commitment – that’s all that we need.
Happy Birthday, Mummy!