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What I was taught in the ‘60s in School has stuck to me like Fevicol!

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By Kulbhushan Kain
In the India of today, sometimes it seems blasphemous to say that you studied in a missionary or a public school. These are seen as bastions of an emerging new elite or a dying missionary culture. Missionary schools were staffed by Irish citizens who asked us during assembly to recite “Our Father, thou art in Heaven”. It is equally appalling to write that school children were brought up on the plays of Shakespeare and books written by EM Foster, Thomas Hardy, George Bernard Shaw and George Orwell. In all honesty, as a schoolboy I did not have the privilege to read and imbibe the wisdom of books and poetry written by Munshi Premchand, Kalidas or Maithali Sharan Gupt. Whatever knowledge I had of Ramayana, Mahabharat or the Koran – I picked up from home and friends. Sometimes, people raise their eyebrows and say – “but that isn’t India”!!

I am very proud of my education. As an educator, I wish the kids could have access to the same syllabus and have the same priorities. We were told to read, read and read. We were taught to imagine, we were taught moral science, we were taught to debate, we were given opportunities to play every game. I still read at least 4 books a month which is a good number for a man of my age. We were taught the importance of public speaking (every Friday we had a debate – yes, every Friday). We were taught to be honest – honest in kind and in thought. I still can’t tell my hosts that the food they served was tasty if it wasn’t! I have never taken a single penny as a bribe (I cross my heart and say that). We were taught the value of games and arts. I think every classmate of mine was an accomplished human being in at least more than just studies. We were taught to be respectful towards one and all.

I remember, my Principal, Brother Dunne once calling me to his office. My father had complained to him that I was disregarding his advice (my father’s), about studies and food. I remember my Principal’s words, “You think you have many friends Kulbhushan. Do you know the difference between friends and acquaintances? (I am not too sure of the word “acquaintance”, he used a simpler word which I can’t recollect). Have you heard of Churchill?” he asked.

I shook my head to say that I had. Brother Dunne continued, “Churchill has said that if you have even 5 friends who you can count on your fingertips, you would have lived a good life. Your parents and your pets are your best friends. They are the only ones who will give you everything unconditionally. Listen to your parents’ advice carefully. They love you more than you can understand.”

I have never forgotten those wise words. I lost my parents before I entered college. I think they would have been great friends of mine. My dogs continue to fulfill me the most emotionally. I would not know what I would do without them.

I have had a fabulous life. I very seldom ask for favours. I feel extremely embarrassed to do so. I have hundreds of colleagues who are Principals of schools. I get hundreds of requests for admissions in their schools. Apart from one or two schools – I find it difficult to ask my friends- sorry acquaintances – for favours! I have thousands of acquaintances, but very few friends! When I ask for a favour – it’s my way of accepting someone as a friend. I find people who have hundreds of “friends” utterly fake!

Finally, my advice to all youngsters in school – try to read Shakespeare. He will alter the way you look at the world. Read Julius Caesar. It’s a book which analyses human psychology in great detail. Read Richard 3- which deals with the treachery of politics. Read Merchant of Venice, which is a superb book on the ways of the world. Read King Lear – which is a fabulous work on respect for elders.

Go beyond someone who can speak or write nothing more than just “wassup dude”, or “Where did you buy that Louis Vuitton from”, or “How much salary is your employer paying you”, or someone who depends on emoticons to express a like or dislike. You require something real to go through life. Don’t go through it like stale bread.

Sydney Harris wrote, “The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.” It doesn’t matter which school one went to, because information is different from knowledge, which in turn is different from wisdom. Any school that gives an opportunity to convert information into knowledge and wisdom is a good school.

More than ever, the world needs wise people and good schools!

Photo Caption: Principal Bro Dunne (standing), and sitting from left to right are Mrs Singh, Bro Caroll, Bro Dunney, and Mrs D’ Souza!)

(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)