‘His curiosity lit up the classroom and set our spirits soaring’

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A series on true experiences

TEACHING A CLASS  full of new students is always an exciting and yet daunting task. You never know what will happen. That day, the class exercise sheet looked easy, perhaps too easy. I calculated the time it would take me to run through it, and realised it would still leave me with almost an hour to kill time “creatively” with a new batch. Not too happy with the thought, I mulled over “fillers” as I walked towards the classroom.

Illustration: Samia Singh

As I entered, I put on my ‘best teacher smile’, which was supposed to convey “I am happy to be with you, but no fooling around allowed.” And then I groaned inwardly — these kids looked as if they would rather be somewhere else. And then came the realisation a teacher dreads: this was going to be a boring session. And it did start off that way, at least in the beginning.

Thirty minutes later, my exercise sheet questions were exhausted. It was now time to discuss the answers. I suppressed a yawn and with practised ease started a dialogue. The questions dragged on when suddenly, a voice piped up from the back, “I have a doubt regarding the previous answer.” And that’s when the miracle happened. His question caught me unaware and all my ennui vanished, leaving me wide awake and on my toes. This inconspicuous, sleepy student had asked me a question so unexpectedly intelligent that it took me a full minute to understand it and another minute to frame the answer. Now the class really took off. As the student and I parlayed about a book and the conclusion its author wanted to arrive at, the rest of the students, who had till now been in a semi-comatose mould, sat up as if watching a ping-pong match. They understood that they had ringside seats to a historic event —the student taking on the teacher.

When I looked at my watch, it was 15 minutes past the two hours allotted for the class. How the time had flown! The student, with his observations, level of insight and a curious mind, had made the class interesting for all of us. It had forced me to dredge up all my knowledge and delve deep into my subject expertise to be able to give an intelligent reply and solve his doubt. As I got ready to sail out of the class, my glance fell on him. This time he gave me his ‘best student smile’ that said it all. It made me feel as if he had read my mind and taken on a challenge to prove to me that this was no ordinary, dull class one attends every day. And he had been right about that.

As I walked out, I realised that this class had taught me a lot of things, especially the pitfalls of underestimation. It also made me realise that for most part, I had been teaching a single student. But, most importantly, it set me thinking about the power of one. Till date, I had always looked at “one” as a lonely number but I now realised what a powerful number it was.

One student had enlivened the class; one word can send our spirits spiralling downwards; one smile can bring us back to bliss; one Mahatma can move a nation to freedom; one line on Facebook sent Mubarak out of Egypt; one dish can salvage a meal; the best diamond is a solitaire; one line, Vande Mataram, is a nation’s song. One is surely a big number.

That night, I watched Shah Rukh Khan on Karan Johar’s Koffee with Karan. He looked like a shadow of his earlier self. And though I have always felt that the actor has overacted his way through his career in many of his movies, at that point of time, there was only one thing I wanted to tell him — “You don’t have to apologise for anything. You have Chak de India to speak for you. Always.” That’s the power of one movie.

Anju Gupta Is 47. She is a faculty member at Career Launcher in Delhi

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