A friend’s email brought me to Ajit Balakrishnan’s post on the last days of Ramu Iyer, Professor of Computer Science at IIM Calcutta in 1969. I think he retired long before I even entered those hallowed portals. However, reading it I had a sense of loss, shame, and yes, anger.
Ramu Iyer taught computer science at IIM Calcutta in 1969, a year when Bill Gates was eleven years old and a decade before Intel and Microsoft, the defining companies of the modern information technology era, were founded. Many of his students are multi-millionaires, board members and CEOs of world-scale companies.
To ask a professor at whose knee you learned everything that you know whether he needed the money to buy a drug that might save his life is a difficult thing to do. What has failed here, you wonder. The way we have organised Indian society that its teachers live a life of penury while their students prosper? Our health care system with its medical insurance schemes that extend to very few? The callousness of the business world, which, preoccupied with growth and investment, doesn’t ever cast an eye on the fountainheads of their success: schools and colleges and teachers?
A teacher is the someone who enters your life for a short while, and never leaves you. His touch guides you. His ideals, his beliefs, his example, his vision keep you going when the world seems bleak. His words ring in your ears long after they are uttered. In some ways, our teachers dictate what we become, what we make of this life. And so, the loss of a teacher is a personal loss, even when they never taught you, indeed never even met you!
How a society treats it’s teachers, is an indication of the mental health of a society. How we treat the “makers of our future” shouts more loudly than words, than any other action, about what we value. How we behave with them is a sign of how much we value, not just their teachings, but also our own futures, our destinies, our world.
And somehow, in today’s world, we take great pride in our accomplishments. After all, we are all self-made men/women, who have carved out our fate from the rocks. We were all born successful. Somewhere the Flying Sphagetti Monster, God, Allah, decides our fates. And has deemed in his infinite wisdom that we should be rich, affluent, beautiful, happy.
And we forget our teachers. We forget those who taught us how to run things, make things. Those who gave us our values, our beliefs, which make us. Those who taught us how to live.
While the defacing of a statue is enough to make us all step out in the streets, rioting, looting, setting fire to buses, none of us seems to be bothered at the daily shame of our heroes, our real-life idols, our teachers, being treated badly. We have a lopsided salary system under govt, which hinders meritocracy, and prevents the “makers of tomorrow” from getting paid well, in line with their efforts, performance, productivity & output. It can’t be corrected without political will, which is totally lacking, because the political parties would rather court the vast corrupt bureaucratic machinery, than the performing minority!
And this is why I’m ashamed, and angry!