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Of Teachers and the Taught

September 28, 2019

September 5th is celebrated in India as Teacher's Day, so celebrated since scholar-President Dr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan when asked how he wanted his birthday celebrated (falling on 5th September) said, “I am what I am because of my teachers. Honour them.”

Today teachers have come a long way, long way down actually in society, on the totem pole of professions. That's because a corrupt society hardly values for higher goal. Gone are the days when teachers were:
Acharyah paramah dharma
Acharyah paramah tapa
Acharyah paramah gyana
Acharya kim na sadhate?

Loosely translated, it means: Teachers show the righteous path; our teachers are full of penance; our teachers have knowledge, what can a teacher not solve or know?

My own schooling at Delhi's Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan is the chief reason I am what I am today. Total education in arts, science, commerce, culture, love for history, geography, debate, dance. I was chosen for role of Krishna with Birju Maharaj's daughter Kavita (now Mrs. Sajan Mishra of Pt Rajan-Sajan Mishra fame) as Radha and Aloka Paniker's daughter Ambika as Draupadi. I was too thin for the role, so instead of putting me down, my teachers padded me up with thick costumes! This was in 1972 and no steroids or special effects were there to enhance body frames, quickly. Teachers gave me love for art and how to help the weakest. Even when I did not do well in the science subjects, or games like football and cricket, not once did any of my teachers discourage me or say anything disparaging. And our principal Dr. M.P. Chhaya was the ultimate - discipline with a smile, leadership with heart. Here is a man after and from Modi's heart and constituency - Baroda. He deserves a Padma award for education. He was offered one long ago by fellow Gujarati Moraraji Desai way back when Desai was the PM in 1977. Dr. Chhaya declined, saying HE DIDN'T WANT FAME TO COME IN WAY OF HIS TEACHING. What a man, what a teacher!

Dr. M.P. Chhaya

Raghvendra Singh
After school, my college experience was again made richer by teachers. Thrown out of St.Stephens for lack of attendance - hence, the yearbook, which had the word DANCE inbuilt! - (and I got poetic justice by presenting a copy to the current principal saying even though I was thrown out of college for lack of attendance, here's a copy that's a 20th year edition!). The Hindu took me in with open arms, only because of my dance-theatre work. One of the chief reasons I couldn't attend classes regularly at the Missionary College (original name of St. Stephens) was that I was selected to play the role of sufi saint Amir Khusro, by Bhagwandas Verma of Natya Ballet Centre. Consequently, I missed many classes. The show was inaugurated by no less than the President of India, Fakkruddin Ali Ahmed in 1976. That success was spotted by the cameraman in the iconic film Sholay's team - G.P.Sippy and cameraman Manmohan Singh (not the future PM by same name!) who got me a romantic role in a forthcoming film. My audition partner was Neelima Azeem, actor Shahid Kapoor's mother!

So Hindu had two theatre buffs, Dr. and Mrs. D.N. Gupta teaching history by day time. They saw my application and took me in. I had the best 3 years in the Hindu. Today when many in current cabinet (like Housing and Urban Development Minister Hardeep Puri) or in cultural field (September appointed dynamic and result-oriented CEO of Museums and Cultural Spaces Development, ex IAS Raghvendra Singh), a retired union culture secretary no less and also CAG of India Dr. Rai etc bump into each other, we can secretly only think and thank our teachers for bonding us well.

In light of this, the Indian concept of GSP (not gps), the Guru Shishya Parampara has stood us well. This is unique to India. Nowhere in the world, except Japan, has this ancient concept of learning survived from Master to disciple. Our classical arts wouldn't have survived but for GSP.

125 year old famed dance hall of Baroda Dance Dept, MSU

Preeti Sathe and Pt. Jagdish Gangani

Pt. Sundarlal Gangani, a rare photo from the MKDC archives

I was in Baroda on Teacher's Day this year and chanced to drop in on MSU Dance Dept my father was the founder-head of from 1950 to 1962. It was nice to be in the same hall, where many greats have taught and danced. The Dance Dept continues to serve the cause of dance under head Pt. Jagdish Gangani, son of veteran Kathak talent Pt. Sundarlal Gangani, from whose elder brother Guru Kundanlal Gangani, I learnt Kathak in Delhi.

Pt. Jagdish Gangani is a robust man whose son Durgesh is making news as a young happening talent, having just also won the SNA Bismillah Khan award this year. Pt. Gangani's ace disciple is Preeti Sathe - what a fine dancer - but she has remained insular and Baroda bound. Here is a talent that should be seen more often. Another good dance talent from this stable is Smriti Vaghela, the very fine Bharatanatyam artiste, who represents Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam karanas infused style well. Dr. Parul Shah of course has retired and serves dance in many ways even from outside by doing research projects for the UGC.

More often than not birthdays come and go and Narthaki is the only portal that lists them, so those one wishes to wish, can do. Each month, there's a roster of birthdays. Sruti, the south Indian performance arts magazine does too, but features only those 60 or above, though how Mandolin Srinivasan or Ravi Kiran got into those pages shows where faith begins logic ends.

Logically, should not there be a forum for dancers nationally where many issues can be taken up? FB is fast becoming FOR BAKWAS! If not For Me! Thank God I never suffered from an exaggerated sense of self importance, to have been on it! I love my peace and quiet. Too much clutter on social media. It also reflects a certain insecurity that one wants to be relevant all the time or in the face, some much past their expiry date! But then each to his/her own. When Gandhi (and since his 150th birthday falls on October 2) was asked: “What do you think of western civilization?” he quietly quipped, “The idea (of it) seems good!”

Ideas travel. So do some of us. I started with September 5th; on a day I was invited to be in Malaysia, Bhubaneswar, I chose Baroda. We must return to our roots, to regain our spirit. What's art without heART?

Ashish Mohan Khokar is a reputed author, arts administrator, historian, critic with many published books and edits India's only yearbook attenDance. He is now helping the IGNCA, Delhi, set up the Mohan Khokar Dance Archives-cum-Museum.

The article took me back to all the days of hardships during learning time and am indebted to all the Gurus forever. As Thyagaraja says, "Guruleka etuvanti guniki teliyakabodu."
- Dr. Vasanth Kiran, Bangalore (Oct 7, 2019)

I agree that a Guru is one who makes us and I owe to my Guru Late Dharamshi Bhai Shah, disciple of my Dada Guru Sundarlal Gangani from Baroda. And little did I know so much about you as well. Thanks for all the tidbits.
- Murali Mohan Kalvakalva (Oct 1, 2019)

A deeply inspiring read that stirred my conscience about the duties of a teacher and made me extremely grateful for all the teachers who have shown me the path. The article brings out the essential role of education in culturing our character through our heart. Many thanks.
- Shrabana Chakraborty (Sept 29, 2019)

The article took me through my own journey of learning from so many teachers, academics, music and dance gurus with Art and HeArt!
- Gayathri Keshavan (Sept 29, 2019)

It's a very heartwarming article about teacher-pupils relationship. Made me think with gratitude of my great teachers who chiseled me to whatever I am today.
- Anon (Sept 29, 2019)

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