UNDERSTANDING EXCELLENCE – PART III (THE MAGIC OF EMPATHY AND MENTORING)

Our seventh standard class in that prestigious school was on the ground floor of the school building in a corner. The students however were extremely prominent by their qualities. Our class consisted of the first 50 students out of around 450 to 500 students of that standard. Therefore, to get entry in this class and then ‘Keep up’ one’s place year-after-year was considered as an accomplishment. In the eyes of students of other division this class lacked ‘daring’ and was utterly ‘Ghasu’ types, just believing in studies and devoid of ‘guts’; as was the popular phrase of our times.

For the sake of this story, I have to mention that I was a sufferer of polio in my childhood and had to wear mental and leather supports termed ‘calipers’ on both my legs. I was quite mobile although not physically active. Once our history teacher called me to write something on the board.  I went enthusiastically to discover that on the uneven wooden platform it was difficult for me to balance myself and write with speed. I was struggling with the task when I heard my teacher calling me half-mockingly “LANGADYA”… which meant a ‘lame person’. I could not write further. The whole class was stunned. The teacher also realized that she had made an odd remark. She allowed me to go back to my seat. No one in the class said anything till the period was over.

As soon as the bell rang the teacher went out. I was still in a state of shock when someone put comforting arms around me. I saw up; and saw my entire class ready to leave the room.  With an instantaneous understanding all 49 boys and girls of my class had decided to boycott the class. All of us stood in the passage. Teacher of the next class came. Students told her that they would not enter the class unless the teacher apologizes. This teacher tried to pacify but everyone was firm. The teacher went to inform the principal. By that time, by an unseen mechanism the news has spread to other classes and students had started peeping at us from their rooms, windows and doors.

The principal came down and told the class to first get inside the room. The class politely yet firmly refused. The principle called all of us to his office. We were made to stand outside and the teacher was called. The principle discussed the case and came out and asked us to send in a ‘delegation’. This was promptly done. The teacher was ready to offer a ‘private’ apology to the student, the principal   said. “That is not fair” the delegation said, “the insult was done in front of the entire class, the apology must be tendered in front of the whole class”. The delegation stood firm.

By this time, teaching and learning activity in the rest of the school had reached a point of commotion. Everyone wanted to know, what was happening. In the principal’s room we were listening to that din that was escalating. “OK” said the principal, “that will be done…”

“Now …” said the delegation.

All others were called inside. The room was packed. The teacher said, “Sorry”. The delegation told clearly to the principle that they were accepting the apology but they had not liked the tone in which it was offered.

No one spoke further. All of us came out. That evening our class was treated by other students as ‘Heroes’. Our class had shown ‘guts’ in the year 1969 when concepts of discipline were harsher than today.

All throughout this incident, I did not (have to) speak a single word although the whole episode triggered because of my reference. But even today I remember all my emotions very vividly. The intense hurt that I experienced with the term ‘LANGADYA’ is there still with me after 38 years. But more prominent is the protective comfort that my entire class gave me after that. Within seconds they had put themselves in my sufferings and they had seen an alternative too. And they were firm enough to execute that alternative. From that point till today the magic of that empathy has never left me. The confidence that my class gave me that day is still with me.

Looking back, what a way to empathize! …  It has helped me to forgive that behavior of that teacher and today I do not clearly remember her face.  But faces of all my classmates are crystal-clear in front of me after 38 years. Do you ever forget your mentors?

Never.

Dr. Anand Nadkarni

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