This is a re-post of an earlier blog I had posted on the occasion of Teacher’s Day, on my old blog Rediff blog. I would like to share it with my new friends on WordPress.
I owe most of what I am , the better part of me that is, to wonderful people like Mother Gabrielle, graced our lives with their affections, guidance and encouragement .
” Where do I begin to tell the story of the love she brought to us? Of how she moulded our characters and of how her spirit and joy for life ignited that tiny spark in our student hearts, that even now lights up our darkest hours? Where do I start?
We had to attend morning assembly everyday and without fail, we had to repeat the pledge “India is my country; all Indians are my brothers and sisters; I love my country and I am proud of its rich and varied heritage.”
Mother Gabrielle was a European nun belonging to the Order of the Apostolic Carmel, who had chosen to spend her adult life in India and to spread the light of education, in its truest sense. She was one of those who rendered real meaning to the word education.
I can still breathe in the comforting smell of her habit, as she hugged us with a warmth that was as unconditional as it was real. Some of the students , I’ve heard her say, belonged to the second generation who had gone through her hands. The vast majority of students in that christian ,convent school, were hindus. At the end of schooling , they remained as hindu, as at the beginning. The christian students had catechism lessons and the rest of had the moral science period . Even Raman and Manikkam, who cleaned the school toilets, continued to worship God in the manner they were used to. There was never any coercion or conversion.
Most of us , though , loved visiting the small chapel . There was a little grotto outside it, with the statue of Mother Mary holding Baby Jesus in her arms. On days when I travel down memory lane , my mind can still evoke the smell of the fresh flowers which lay scattered around her feet . We prayed to St. Anthony and lit candles before his statue, if we had misplaced something. He was the patron saint, who , it was believed, could trace them back. And Jesus , nailed to the cross , behind the altar, with the crown of thorns , had brought tears to my eyes. I loved the chime of the angelus bell, at noon , which was rung to spread goodwill amongst the people on the earth .
We learnt of forgiveness, of putting the others before oneself, the importance of involvement with society, the need to lend a helping hand, to reach out, to love. We learnt of the beautiful things that dot our everyday lives. We learnt to appreciate music , singing along with her , in the parlour , during the music period, she sitting there on a stool in front of the piano, at the side of which there was a marble bust of Beethoven, her fingers moving over the piano keys, her eyes half closed, thoroughly enjoying the mood. We learnt of sharing , collecting old clothes from time to time , for distribution amongst the poor. The whole school queued up to receive one small jamboo fruit each , every season, which she handed out from a huge gunny sack filled with the pinkish white fruit. None of us found it a matter of amusement. We accepted that act of sharing with all the seriousness in our young lives.
Mother Gabrielle would come to the assembly each day, armed with some nugget drawn from a book she had read, or some conversation she had had with someone, or something she had witnessed. To this day I remember that weaver-birds nest that had fallen off from the tree and which she had brought along to the assembly to teach us about natures marvels.
All of us had to spend fifteen minutes after school, to sweep the floor of our respective classrooms, arrange the desks and benches in straight rows and dust the furniture. The sanitation monitors of the school, gave us marks for that, which was displayed on a notice board every morning, which had the words Cleanliness is next to Godliness , inscribed on it. At the end of the term , the class who scored the highest, got a prize.” A broom in the hands of a young girl is like a sceptre in the hands of a queen”, Mother Gabrielle would quote. For a long time , I didn’t know the meaning of the word sceptre, never bothered to find out. When I did, eventually, I was grown up and then remembering her words , was foolish enough to think ,that that was a downright anti- feminist thing to say, something that sought to justify all the monotonous , tedious jobs being assigned to women. Of course when the cobwebs cleared, I realised that what she meant to emphasize was the dignity of labour . I also became aware of how important it was to “keep ones head on one’s shoulders”, as she would often insist.
There is a scene in that superb Hollywood movie, Mr. Hollands Opus, starring Richard Dreyfuss, when several batches of his old students, gather to pay tribute to their music teacher , when he leaves school. Every time , I see it, my eyes grow moist in that scene, where one of his students, tells him,” there is not one life here , you havent touched, we are your notes and your symphony.” I cant remember the exact words, only the feelings that were emoted. Writing this, I know why I was so moved. For me, Mr. Holland was Mother Gabrielle and what I was feeling was unexpressed gratitude.
P.S: My friend Dilip Krishnan (http://myownboswell.rediffiland.com) so kindly sent me the full text of what Mr. Holland’s student said. Here it is:
Thus spoke the Governor of Oregon, a lady, who also was a former student of Mr. Holland. “Look around you. There is not a life in this room that you have not touched and each one of us is a better person because of you. We are your symphony Mr. Holland. We are the melodies and the notes of you opus and we are the music of your life”.