All eggs in one Bangchung( basket)!!
I have fond memories of Bhutan, where I was stationed in the early nineties. Bhutan is a landlocked country in the eastern fringe of the Himalayas. It is a spectacularly beautiful country with hills, valleys, small rivulets and mountain streams and some glorious snow capped mountains. More beautiful than the natural bounty are perhaps the people who make this lovely country.
The people are simple and honest and intricately linked to the nature. It was only in 1999 that internet and mobile telephony started making inroads into the land. The people are rugged and fond of sports – basketball and archery being the main passion. They are fond of Hindi movies. This is the only country which has adopted the “global happiness index” as a measure of its economic development and very rightly it is rated as the happiest Asian and the eight happiest country in the world!!
I was part of a team which provided medical care to the locals as part of a goodwill process. There would be serpentine queues of the residents lined up with varying ailments. They were extremely grateful for the medicare provided in that far flung and remote corner of Bhutan. They would smile appreciatively and beam with happiness on being dispensed with the medicines after a medical consultation. It was a social visit and a convenient meeting point and often they would be in animated discussion about something or the other soaking in the sun on the hospital lawns. Many of them became friends and would encourage my fledgling efforts at trying to converse with them in Dzonkha, the local language. They would come on mule-back or walk miles to reach the facility.
At the end of my first day, my medical assistant asked me to come to the dispensary. I was amazed, surprised and touched to see scores of small beautifully woven small bamboo baskets with intricate geometric designs. Each one capable of being closed with a lid- the local Bhutanese Tupperware-the hand woven Bangchung. Each one containing one to two fresh eggs. They wanted to show their gratitude and this was their gift to me. The Bangchung is used by them to store dry meat, Yak cheese and also serves as a plate for eating rice and used on the move.
I collected several of the Bangchung . Refusing them was not an option-the local interpreter made that very clear. I gifted them to many friends and relatives-they make very attractive decorative pieces. I was not much of an egg -eater and the eggs found their way to the homes of my colleagues in the station. Many of them did not buy eggs as long as I was around – such was the generosity of the Bhutanese. It was a different thing that whenever I visited my colleagues, their wives would serve me egg dishes of all shapes and sizes-it was assumed I am very fond of eggs and hence I was collecting them, quite literally, by the baskets!!
Those were the best days of my life…
Of late, I seem to be often going down memory lane and meandering along the nostalgia road. Something recently triggered it and I started thinking about the several schools I had the opportunity to attend. Being an Army child, I moved from place to place, wherever my father was posted. Small stations (some which we needed to mark on the atlas after receiving posting orders-those days there were no Google maps!); overgrown villages and occasionally a metropolis as well. Consequently, one went to whichever school was available at the cantonment or somewhere close to it. I had the “pleasure” of attending nine schools in twelve schooling years.
There was at most times, no choice really and the selection of the school was dictated by the fact that the school existed at that particular location. I have had my share of Public Schools , Convent schools and for the largest part of my academic career Government aided Central Schools- the entire spectrum and what a roller –coaster ride it was. Schooling, in retrospect was a great experience and helped me cope in later life with all kinds of situations.
While in an obscure station in Punjab, the closest decent school was some 20 kilometers away. There were just four school -going kids and a school bus was not available. Consequently the four of us would catch a Punjab Roadways bus on the highway. The bus used to be packed like a tin of sardines and we would be told to haul ourselves on top of the bus. We had, for company, milk sellers and vegetable sellers with fresh produce heading from the villages to the slightly bigger town where we were headed as well. They became friends and very often in the bitter winter, they would throw a blanket across us. We would reach school nearly half frozen and with blue noses but what an exhilarating ride it was. The rest of the day at school was a damp squib compared to the excitement of the journey to and fro.
I must tell you about a school I studied in another corner of Punjab during a subsequent tenure. A school bus existed; there were quite a few of us who went together singing songs en route the fifteen odd kilometers to school. The school principal was a farmer at heart and each of the classes had a patch of ground allocated. I was in the fifth grade and we had a carrot patch allotted to us. Different classes grew cabbage, potatoes, and tomatoes and so on. Immediately after assembly, we would head to our patches and work as farmers. We became proficient cultivators-our notebooks would often be smudged with mud; our curriculum progressed slowly but what an education it was. It is a different matter, the Principal was subsequently sacked and farming was stopped but the bond formed between fellow –farmers of the fifth grade still hold strong today!!
Yet another of my schools in the North –East was usually conducted in the open air because the construction was kind of make- shift and the roof would just blow off with the heavy winds in the valley where it was located. But I honestly think we learnt just as much as anywhere else but we enjoyed the fresh air and the sunshine far more than any stuffy air conditioned class!
I studied briefly in an elite convent and some well known Public schools as well. The number of schools I saw, the myriad personalities I encountered, the vastly different kinds of teachers I studied under , the huge numbers of friends I made in all these schools , the treasure trove of memories I have and the experiences that I enjoyed and sometimes did not make me the person I am today. I would not recommend it as an ideal way of education but I must definitely say I enjoyed every bit of the roller –coaster ride!!
Learn one, Teach one …
The time honored dictum, in medical practice and especially in the case of surgical skills is to “learn one, teach one”. It essentially implies that the best way to learn a new technique or skill or hone your own abilities in a particular expertise is to teach another one the same and how true it is for any other branch of teaching or even life, for that matter…
05 September is traditionally commemorated as “Teacher’s Day” in India. As an Army brat, I had the opportunity to move wherever my father got posted and consequently I saw nine schools in twelve years of my schooling. Later, getting through Medical School and getting a little more “educated’, I met and was influenced by several who taught me.
Teachers are a different breed altogether and as Joyce Meyer remarked, “Teachers can change lives with just the right mix of chalk and challenges”. I remember with such clarity the oddities and idiosyncrasies of teachers; what they wore, how they talked and how they conducted themselves but more importantly what they represented and what they meant to me in my very impressionable years.
Some of them were friends; some were a shoulder to lean upon when things did not seem to be going well; some others were a sounding board with whom I could discuss things which I was reluctant to talk about at home. Some were examples of what I ought not to become or how I ought not to behave in life When I was confused about career choices and which way I was headed, a Biology teacher (who was also the prettiest teacher who ever taught me) showed me my strengths and made me think about Medicine as an option. In large measure I joined Medical School thanks to the confidence she inspired in me! Much later, a Professor in Medical school exposed me to the pleasures of using a good fountain pen and high quality ink- he did not really teach me how to go about it. But I would see his daily ritual of meticulously filling up his pens with ink and follow it up with exquisite penmanship. My handwriting is not as good as his but my love for pens and ink and writing has not diminished over the last nearly three decades. I agree so strongly with Henry Adams when he remarked, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell when his influence stops”.
For many years now, I have been a teacher as well and I have had many medicine residents pass through my hands. I realize how my own teaching styles and methods are so strongly influenced by my own professors and teachers. I realize how fortunate I was to learn from them; I realize what a privilege it is to learn under the wings of great teachers. I cannot probably thank them enough. It would be special if even one student of mine remembered me twenty years down the line warmly and if I may be optimistic, appreciatively!
The art of teaching is truly the art of assisting discovery. It is perhaps the greatest of arts since the medium is not water colors or oil or charcoal but the human mind and spirit!! It could not have been put better than this and to quote Christa McAulife,”I touch the future. I teach”.