By Rutajeet Karmakar
THE WORLD regards Alexander, king of the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedon, as The Great. But Alexander believed his teacher, the philosopher Aristotle, was Greater.
The legendary Greek ruler, referring to Aristotle, said: “I am indebted to my father for living, but to my teacher for living well.”
Alexander died young, but lived well as he conquered kingdom after kingdom all the way to India, where teachers have had a place above parents since ancient times.
Alexander was perhaps unaware that multi-cultural India was a land of great teachers – from the spiritualist Buddha, Sanskrit grammarian Panini, astronomer-mathematician Aryabhatta and economist Chanakya to the unknown shapers of mind in ancient universities such as Nalanda and Taxila.
This tradition of qualitative teaching beyond textbooks has carried on through Srimanta Sankardeva, Dayanand Saraswati, Swami Vivekanda, Ishwar Chandra Bidyasagar, APJ Abdul Kalam and Amartya Sen, to name a few.
In this line of illustrious teachers was Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, a great scholar and India’s second President, whose date of birth we celebrate as Teachers’ Day every year.
More than 100 countries honour their teachers on October 5, timed with World Teachers’ Day designated by UNESCO. This is exactly a month after we celebrate Teachers’ Day, perhaps an acknowledgement that teaching in India was once ahead of the times.
But there are countries that celebrate this day earlier in the year. Neighbour Bhutan, for instance, celebrates it on May 2 to mark the birth anniversary of Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, the Himalayan country’s third king. And Guatemala marks June 25, the day in 1944 when teacher Maria Chinchilla Recinos died protesting against an oppressive military government.
In countries such as Estonia, Teachers’ Day on October 5 is a brief affair with students granting leave to teachers in the last class and conducting lessons themselves. Others such as Saint Lucia celebrate it for a week from October 4.
Whatever the duration, Teachers’ Day is an universal acceptance that teachers – as American writer-journalist Jeannette Walls wrote – are like angels leading their flocks out of the darkness. We are fortunate to have the angels of Gurukul holding our hands in the journey towards light.
American writer William Arthur Ward classified teachers into four categories. He said: “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”
Our teachers inspire as they demonstrate, explain and tell with the objective of moulding us into achievers to live life well. Whether or not we become great, our teachers will always be greater.
On this great day, dear teachers, I salute your greatness.
(Son’s Teacher’s Day speech in school, doctored a bit by the father)