26th July 2005. Its been some time since we spoke. This conversation meanders. But sputters too. And as often becomes a ghost. Welcome P.
Phaedrus: Tell me. What was yesterday like.
S: Nice. Better. I may have broken through. We are a long way from a robust radicalism – and an even longer way away from robust resilient thinking. There are too many bad habits; too many things that have been privileged; years and years of going down pathways that promised safety – the safe options road.
P: But surely you don’t object to that. I do remember your being very interested in following a step behind thought processes.
S: Ummm. You are right. I am not making value judgements. Though I admit it sounds like that. I am a student of patterns and ways. The aboriginal way of categorizing components of life is very different and as significant as any other. I am not a missionary being deprecating about the practices and ways of the other. That would be incorrect. However with the 17 students I have not had much time to sit down and comprehend their vocabulary, their universe of discourse – which states what is important and what is not. Given how rushed I am these days I sometimes wish I could just proscribe all that they consider important – hoping in some way to turn a switch which makes them all open to a wide variety of options. But alas that cannot be done. Education is about a slow and delicate process – which has to be done in a sisyphusian fashion – one step at a time. And each step has to be taken by the child herself – I cant give information, for that would put all of them into wheel chairs for the rest of their lives. At any step they could turn around and cut me out – we don’t trust you. So yesterday was a turning point – and it was visible. The bodies did not slouch as much, the deprecatory look was confined to a few, chests were forward, eyes were open wider – you could begin to see a different form of engagement. The drawl in the voice and the fear of commitment is still there – but there is a little bit of trust – a flicker of faith. We may pull it off. But still they are mildly nasty.
P: Tell me about the ‘eager restless student’ again. Been a while since I heard that.
S: It has been, hasn’t it. 1987 – School of Architecture, New Delhi, and then again TVB 1991. Okay. I took this group of students to the basketball court and pushed the ball away from me. A minute later I found myself watching an enthusiastic soccer match in progress. There must have been 25 of them there that day. Years later – I was standing similarly with Randhir – and watching the furious kicking of the ball. Many of them had never played soccer. But had thrown themselves into the kicking. But it wasn’t about the ball was it? It was the first thing – I didn’t have to say anything – they just took off. But it was a class – and they had changed it into a game. But more importantly they were not standing around asking to be instructed – tell us what to do. Now imagine you walk into a class and there is a buzz. They are eager – as though you are what they have been waiting for – and cannot get enough of what you have to offer. They snatch, they push, they are open and give themselves totally. Ah but how strange is that. What is more likely is a group of students crouched – defensively – silent, watchful for tricks, deprecatory and dismissive of the teacher just to get a few laughs from the other students, always fearful lest they look ridiculous. But one day I had a class in Jerusalem. 35 students like open-mouthed vacuum cleaners – snapping up everything I had to offer, sucking up everything. Throwing themselves into the discussion, running, running, here there and in the end they were exhausted. Totally drained. They would ask what is going on, why are we SO tired – this has never happened to us even when we have trekked huge distances in the army. Ah! that is your mind – you use it and it tires. Can we build up the stamina of our mind? – of course you can. I will help – it will take time. But you have to use it – not a little – you have to strain it, push it, and keep doing that; till your brain is strong and grows in all directions – and is hungry for the limit experience. And so it was that I encountered the eager restless student.
P: Will these students go that way?
S: That would be wonderful to speculate. We are still building confidence – “no don’t be scared, say it aloud, I am here to strike down the judgemental, good on you”. And so on – again and again – pushing, pushing always. Its happening, I amplified one or two things that the fearful do – stand away, hands cupped under face, crossed arms – classic, classic. Leaning back to speak – always conscious of themselves; till they look around and see the others – you cannot play soccer this way, you have to throw yourself at the ball, the question, the idea. But like I started saying at the beginning – its slow, its taken two weeks, I have been gentle (this is not Israel), and they are responding. They are beginning to trust me. Or in their words ‘ now they get it’ or have begun to see “what is going on”.
(But then – Why cant they just speak English – and be done with.)