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The Potter and the Clay

‘He is now coming into your class. You will have to be careful. He should have been thrown out of school a long time ago.’ There she stood, petite, thin, pretty, hearing the words of her seniors, teachers more experienced than she, far older than her thirty something years. She looked at them, and inwardly sighed - another child had been turned into a monster by those very persons in whose care he had handed over his soul --- his teachers.

She walked into the classroom; large, well-polished desks neatly lined up in three rows, the plaque above the door reading 9 A. She smiled as she saw that there was not a child sitting on the benches… no, children must sit on desks!!! Oh, how this rattled those old ladies in the Staff Room below! She chuckled to herself. Silently she stood at the door, and suddenly, as though of one mind, they scrambled off the desks and rushed to sit quietly in their seats, looking at her, some fearfully, some quizzically. None knew what to make of her. As juniors they had known she was rather strict, as seniors they had heard from the others that ‘only the lucky ones get to go to her class’. Could the ex-students be right? They would find out; oh, yes, they had two years in which to find out. Two years of…..? None could answer that question yet. None dared to.

She stood silently before them, looking gently at each teenager sitting before her, smiling at those she had closely worked with earlier, nodding gently at those she did not know yet. In each one’s eyes she looked for something. Had eight years of so-called ‘discipline’ of teachers already scarred the soul? Had the years robbed the child of its self-esteem, of its self-honour, of its joy of being all that it was? And in all she saw that the horrible task was done. The teachers had been successful, for in every eye she could only see fear and distrust, not thrill and excitement. The soul contact had been severed. She sighed heavily, but she knew that again she was in the right place, at the right time. She had 30 beautiful souls to commune with, to awaken, to make them remember the godliness that lay dormant, but not dead, within them.

Crash!!! The door slammed open, breaking the silence, and in skidded Surya. Ah! Here he is! The monster! Not much of a monster to look at, though. The class almost stopped breathing. The first day of the new school year, and already Surya had a late mark against his name. Now what? She knew that this was the critical moment; if she lost this moment she may not find another one for a long time. She indicated that Surya remain standing by the door, and then proceeded to tell the class about the school elections that they would soon be competing in, and the responsibility that this involved. Then she asked the contenders to talk briefly of the posts they wished to campaign for.

Slowly she turned towards Surya, and he loudly, defiantly, stared back at her and said, ‘School Games Captain’. Strongly she held his stare, although from his immense height and built, he towered over her. ‘No, Surya, you are not eligible for these elections. I do not accept your nomination.’ The class gasped. Did she not know that this was invitation for Surya to retaliate, to attack? ‘Surya, there is only one qualification that is essential for these elections. Self-discipline. You and I will spend this year learning self-discipline, and next year, you will campaign for the post of Head Boy’. This time the gasp was even louder. Head Boy? The most coveted post in the school! Surya??? Was she mad? Her statement, spoken with so much conviction, silenced even Surya, who had opened his mouth to shout at her. He looked at her in disbelief. Surely she was mocking him! But the smile that had lit up her face was so genuine that he did not know what to do, but he knew that he would do whatever she wanted, for somewhere within Surya, his soul had leapt up in acknowledgement, acknowledgement of its own will and authority. She had seen him for what he truly was, and in her face was acceptance, not rejection. Tears came to his eyes, and fiercely he wiped them away. No one would see him cry! No way, he, Surya, made others cry!

One year went by, and slowly but surely Surya learnt self-discipline. He learnt to respect himself each time she gave him a task which he performed so ably; he learnt punctuality each time he saw the gentle disappointment in her eyes when he entered late; he learnt consideration for others and faith in self each time she wordlessly patted his shoulder in encouragement when he was sure he would fail; he learnt the pride of making a mistake and using it to succeed, each time she said ‘I am sorry’ knowing neither shame nor humiliation; he learnt love and perseverance each time she refused to give up on him or any other student in the class.

By the end of the year the talk in the staff room had changed considerably. ‘Surya has improved so much. That's because he fears you, and does not dare to misbehave.’ She smiled, for she and Surya, both, knew, as did all of 9A, that fear does not have the power to bring about transformation. Only love and acceptance do.

Yes, many teachers believe that discipline can be taught through fear and harshness. Fear creates the monsters that lie within the teacher’s own heart; love gives birth to the god-child within. The soul is the divine clay in the potter’s hand, and the potter can only create what he can see within himself.

Class 10A waited in eagerness for the results to be announced. They had all voted for Surya as Head Boy. But would the rest of the school? Would the teachers give him another chance? Would the student body only remember who he had been, and not recognise who he had become now? Just then she entered the class, her face beaming in pride and love, the tears of joy flowing freely down her cheeks. Simultaneously the Principal’s voice was heard over the public announcement system, "Head Boy, Surya Nagpal!" The class erupted in a tumult of exultation. They hugged Surya, pommeled him in pride, held him up. She smiled. They were not only rejoicing Surya’s victory, but their own, for when one soul reclaims its power, other souls experience the fullness of their own divinity.

Not one student realised when she left the class silently, once again thanking the Divine Power for making her a teacher, one who teaches a soul how to reclaim its power and use it for the good for all. She smiled at her naivety, for as she walked down the stairway, she imagined that she heard the angels whisper ‘Hallelujah’.

(My contribution for Chicken Soup For The Indian Soul)

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