I was five years old when I first started teaching. The boy who would become my brother had just moved in from Tamil Nadu to my neighbour’s house. My Pillar Aunty had adopted him. He was the youngest son of her youngest brother who had passed away at an early age. So when K7 came to Vijayananagar, Pillar Aunty’s son Chinu, who would have been in his late 20s then and treated me like his adversary, ragged me saying that I had to teach K7 Kannada because he would be studying it in school. Naturally K7 didn’t know a word of Kannada. Since I mostly don’t have a sense of humour, I took Chinu at his word and began to earnestly teach K7 how to speak in Kannada. When I was older (around 6) and knew how to write, I still taught him Kannada. I also began to teach Kannada to the kids for whom my parents were the local guardians.
In my house in Vijayanagar there was a utility area at the side of the house which had a cemented wall. That cemented wall became my board and the water pipes, the washing stone, the compound wall became my students. Every afternoon/evening after school, I’d don the role of a teacher and teach my ‘pupils’ all that I had learnt in class that day. I have been told that this school went on for at least two hours each day before my dad would coax me back inside to behave like a normal child and play normal games. Since I believed in corporal punishments those days, unlike my own teachers, the recalcitrant pupils or the mischievous students who would insist on talking while I taught ended up getting whacked by my wooden scale. Neighbours, particularly, Pillar Aunty’s household would watch this show from their windows.
So in time it was no surprise to anybody that I ended up becoming a trainer and then a lecturer. It was, you could say, fated. Later in life, I have been many things – a writer, an editor, a community manager, an event manager, an MC and what not. But I have always seen myself as a teacher, even when I have been working 12 hours a day in a corporate job. At the most, I can see myself as a writer or an editor.
This is curious. I am the sort of person who thrives on drama. I need to be the prima donna. I need to be the star. I need adulation, gratitude. I need air-kisses and the whole ‘May I kiss your hand, my Lady’ sort of stuff. I need to be treated like a diva. I need to be worshipped. I need to be respected like a Queen. I am not happy even in relationships if elements of these aren’t being met.
And yet being a teacher or an editor is my choicest of professions. As everyone knows, of all the jobs one can ever do, the job of a teacher or an editor is one that is most thankless. They don’t even pay too well. You can do a lot of drama in a classroom. As an editor, you can even throw tantrums about including the Oxford comma. Sure, your students appreciate you. The writer might even thank you for not showing the world how atrocious your grammar really is, but that’s where it ends. A teacher hardly ever gets any limelight, or resounding applause. An editor gets no congratulatory mail for a book that is flawless.
I have always wondered how being the person I am, my choice of profession is what it is.
But since Bangalore Writers Workshop happened, I have understood this.
I think the most gratifying thing that can happen in any teacher or mentor’s life is when their student or protégé becomes better than them. The highest moment in an editor’s life is when a piece she worked on has become a raging hit, and knowing she was responsible for the direction/flawless language in the piece.
Our first batch of BWW was extraordinary. All of the nine writers were special and blazingly talented in their own way. We knew that when we admitted them. We also knew that their work was raw and unpolished. When they joined we saw also that they were mostly unaware of the little tricks and stunts they could do with their own writing. That there were authors in the world they had never heard about but who would become their favourites once they read them. And so the workshops proceeded.
Around the fourth workshop, Rheea and I saw with mounting astonishment, pleasure, and an element of smugness how they suddenly started writing like professionals; when they began speaking like writers who had read all they could and were still hungry for more; writers with a discerning taste in literature (not Chetan Bhagat); when they became not just writers but editors and critics with a very real interest in grammar and structure and plot and narration; writers who argued passionately to have their italicized word included in the piece. A day came in each of their lives when I had to remark that this piece required no rework or no edits, that this story is ready to be published. I floated on air for days after that.
Then it got better. People started talking about our writers. My bitches were suddenly making news, winning awards, getting published.
Today I had the best high ever. A friend posted a short story of one of my brats on my Facebook wall and said that she read it and thought it was amazing, and wasn’t the author from my school?
And that’s it.
The reason why I see myself mostly as a teacher and an editor.
It’s not about the thanklessness of the profession. It’s not about living vicariously. It’s knowing you have made a change in someone’s life and that they will always carry that with them. It’s knowing you have tied a part of your soul with theirs. It’s the joy of having shown a way and maybe made a difference. Your life is suddenly enriched and then there is a quiet drama that needn’t see any limelight. It’s being grateful to the universe for giving you the ability to do that. It’s knowing that you are a star because you can create more and better stars if you want.
From being a teacher and a pupil, you become friends. From being a writer and an editor, you become collaborators. You become associates. You become equals.
It’s humbling and exhilarating and everything you could ever wish for.
BWW Bitch 1, you will always be so very special to me. Now go become stars. That’s all.