By Kulbhushan Kain
I can never forget Isha. She was one of the brightest and most lovable students I ever came across in my teaching career. As I walked the corridor of the school one day, I spotted her standing all alone and looking at the school buildings.
“What’s up Isha? Are you planning to do a painting of the school?” I asked (she was a very artistic girl).
She smiled, tried to say something, and then burst out crying.
I wasn’t prepared for what had happened. Isha was a girl who always wore a smile on her face and when she laughed – her laugh was infectious and could be heard from a distance.
“What happened, why are you crying?” I asked her.
“Sir, I have grown up in this school, and now the farewell is only a week away. I don’t want to leave school, Sir.”
More sobbing, more emotions overflowing.
Yes, it’s the farewell season in schools, and ironically, it coincides with the new children joining. Last week, I saw a batch of new students joining the school where my wife works. By the time you read this, there will be a batch of students who will be leaving. Many of them – both new entrants and school leavers will be shedding tears.
Farewells are an integral part of the school system. In some schools, they call it graduation. It is an occasion to say goodbye to students who leave the portals of a school and go into the world of colleges and universities. It is an occasion when a child feels ‘liberated’ from the ‘tyranny’ of school uniforms, examinations, and compulsory class attendance. It is an occasion when society at large finally accepts that boys and girls have become men and women.
I have been part of many farewells – in fact 42 of them. Each one of them left me with a sense of loss and took time to reconcile. I have never got ‘used’ to farewells.
I remember my school farewell very vividly. I remember the colour of the shirt and trousers that I was wearing. I also remember how as the school head boy, I had to get the dance session rolling by asking the school ‘head girl’ for a dance – only to be refused on the plea that she did not dance! It was the most embarrassing moment of my youth and took place in full glare of all the staff and students. It took the sensitivity of our teacher, Mrs D’Souza, to walk across the hall, and ask “Kulbhushan, can I have the pleasure of dancing with you?”
As I look back, I think it was one of the most defining moments of my life. It exposed me to human sensitivity in a way nothing else earlier had. Mrs D’Souza was an iconic teacher and everyone would have given their lives for a dance with her. To this day, I remember the farewell not for the food that was served, nor the games that were organised on the occasion, nor for the speech of our handsome blue-eyed Irish Principal Brother Dunne -but the gesture of Mrs D’Souza. Images of her dancing flit across my mind as if it were yesterday. She taught me that one is an incomplete human being if one cannot “imagine” someone else’s discomfort or suffering.
Farewells have changed a bit over the years. The dress code is more formal and is specifically put into the invite such as “Boys should preferably be dressed in dark suits. Girls should preferably wear sarees.”
One look at the children and no one would believe that they are school children. Almost all of them carry expensive-looking digital cameras and most of them flash iPhones. Mont Blanc pens peep out of their coat pockets. Girls clutch Hermes or Guchi purses. The whiff of after shaves and perfumes floats in the air. One feels as if one has entered a meeting of corporate India by mistake. The truth is that the farewell has transformed boys and girls into adults!
Farewells start with an address by the Principal which does get elaborate. Various activities are organised (a ramp walk, speeches, remembrances, games, dances…), but what is most keenly anticipated is what are called ‘titles’ along with mementoes, which the outgoing class presents to the teachers.
Children have the most uncanny gift of correlating lines of popular songs with the personality of a teacher, and no one can ever dispute the accuracy of it. I remember a teacher who taught Maths and had a very distinct style of walking. We all sat and wondered what title they would give him. Then came the one-liner – ‘Tauba yeh matwaali chaal’ – as he walked up to the dais! When a rather strict hostel warden, known for enforcing ‘lights out’ at night came to receive his memento, the soundtrack of the movie Sholay was played with the dialogue ‘Beta so jaa, nahin to Gaur aa jayega’ (replacing the name of Gabbar with the teacher’s!).
People say that there is nothing ‘good’ in a ‘goodbye’. However, my take is that goodbyes make you think. Yes, they envelop you in a cloak of sadness. But, they also make you realise what you’ve had, and what you have lost. They make you realise what you take for granted – be it a stay in a particular place, institution, or with friends, it is fleeting and will go away.
Ultimately, they make you realise that life itself is transitory.
Farewells teach the hard lessons of life which no syllabus can teach! Therein is hidden their importance.
(Kulbhushan Kain is an award winning educationist with more than 4 decades of working in schools in India and abroad. He is a prolific writer who loves cricket, travelling and cooking. He can be reached at kulbhushan.kain @gmail.com)