Inspirational stories from life!
Travelling everyday from my village to school in the train surrounded by stunning landscape and plethora of river Cauvery’s backwaters was an alluring journey of my life.
Every time our train stopped at the hamlets it used to be a whole new experience watching these teensy weensy railway stations buzzing with commuters in the form of farmers, school going kids, tourists, traders, teachers, beggars, and the rest who wanted to reach Mysore City.
School going kids always used to flock in one particular compartment for physical and emotional safety from the rough commuters as well as teachers! That journey was my longest joyful three years ride and during those jolly rides we used to sing, dance, play, befriend fellow travelers.
This particular incident which I want to narrate to you has left a lasting impact on me as a child, a scar which delivered inferiority complex with a high intensive punch that I carried for very long.
Before I pour my heart out as an awkward child, let me ask you these questions…
Have you ever stared incongruously at someone because of their improper dress sense?
Have you ever wondered why at a restaurant this guy is biting food with his hands?
Have you looked with amusement thinking what could be the reason for that beautiful girl to go after that average looking guy?
As a professional, you wondered what will this out of the college kid know about project management?
If the answer to even one of these questions is yes, don’t worry, you are not alone, we are all judgmental at one point or the other. We judge others because we would want to feel better or feel superior to the one whom we are judging.
Let me take you back to my train journey! A rainy evening in the mid eighties, I was late from school and lucky by a few meters to catch the train but unlucky by miles that I had boarded the last compartment of the train.
I held my bag and sat at the edge of a bench hoping to hop off the train when it stops in next station, I was desperate to join my friends.
That’s when I realized that I was sitting amidst teachers and tried my best to appear as obedient as I could.
One of the teachers asked my name, then my schools name and then about my parents, I answered them all politely. He wanted to know why I am late and then started advising me to respect time, respect parents, respect teachers. Until this point, it was a casual insincere discourse. Then this mathematical tricky question came to me like a bolt from the blue.
“Do you know the table of 12?”
Silence …… I had no idea what table he was referring to?
“Don’t you know tables?” – ? He asked again and this time he was sarcastic and looked at other fellow teachers with a kind of expression of victory against his opponent.
“What is the meaning of table Sir?”
When I asked this question, he waylaid a stern counter question “Which standard are you in” for which I promptly replied “eight class” now this teacher looked at his fellow colleagues and co passengers and said with amusement…
“What a pity, this boy is in high school and doesn’t know anything about tables.”
Now it is the turn of this middle aged lady, her tone initially appeared pleasing
“Son, have you not learnt multiplication table in your school” I kept quiet and then there was a long silence “don’t you know my child that this is basics of arithmetic, now tell me what is 4 multiplied by 4”
There was a long silence again and many eyes now piercing through my frightened heart which was faster than the steam engines chuk chuk and railings crossings thud thud beats.
“Don’t you know how to multiply” someone asked and there was a another long silence after that, I picked up courage to ask
“Madam, what is the meaning of multiply”
There was sudden outburst of laughter which was silenced by the darkness as train passed under the tunnel and the hissing sound of these learned men echoed all over my soul like a saw’s serrated blade charring my body into anxious pieces.
When the train stopped with the screeching sound, I tried to run away to the next compartment to join my friends. I wanted to break away from this humiliation but my hand was held tight by this well built man, not sure if he was a teacher but it appeared from his body language that he had some plans.
“You surely must know addition, don’t you?”
Now I was an object of amusement to fellow travelers and I heard an old man saying leave the boy alone.
“No, it is our moral responsibility to show such kids the right path” this philosophical answer was delivered by the man who was still holding my arm to ensure that I do not escape. I started sobbing hysterically saying “leave me,”
They made a shaggy dog story of a vulnerable boy and no one seems to understand his plight and helplessness. Instead of clarifying his questions, everyone had a questionable look at the very existence of a stupid, unintelligent boy whose brains were dimly witted than a class two boy, which I overheard someone’s passing comment amongst hisses and laughter. It looked like they had best entertainment as they had to pass time as they travel at my expense.
Well, you must also be wondering by now why I should not be called a dim-witted boy when I could not answer basics of mathematics being an eighth grader?
You see, I studied in a regional government school and learnt subjects including mathematics in my mother tongue. Despite being an average student, I knew the meaning of terms multiplication, addition, and subtraction only in the language that I was taught.
One of my favorite authors Dean Koontz has this to say
“Some people think only intellect counts: knowing how to solve problems, knowing how to get by, knowing how to identify an advantage and seize it, but the functions of intellect are insufficient without courage, love, friendship, compassion, and empathy.”
To my dismay, no one heard me and they were judgmental. Nevertheless, they showed great concern towards my bleak future and worried about my parents and society on the whole about what will I be to the society.
Often we are judgmental, it is a human nature. If someone is not in line with our regular stereotypical way of looks, action, shape, color, language they speak or read; we generally look down on them.
You may also have been a victim just like I was or without knowing you could have victimized someone, who maybe your friend, colleague or even a loved one!
As I see it with my own experience, once we judge someone, we give no room to know anything beyond the point. Just the way as it had happened to that little me in the train, I was labeled and denied an opportunity for explain my plight.
One way of avoiding being judgmental is to be empathetic and remove clusters of unfounded biases, labeling and stereotyping.
Empathy is a powerful tool which allows us to actually be in the situation of others to see people as they are and not as we want to see them. We strain relationship with friends, family, and colleagues by being judgmental and drawing meanings through our preconceived filters to get things interpreted our way.
Luckily I met a few good teachers in my life at school and at my workplace. Otherwise with the kind of experience I had encountered, I would have always thought teachers were tormentors and train journey would have remained a metaphor of dreadful journey of my life!
© Haris AW